2014 was the year of DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell. And both disappeared in 2015 in fantasy terms. Fantasy drafts this summer are rummaging through the wideouts more than ever and quality running backs are lasting far deeper than ever. But – there is a reason. What was once the supreme fantasy stud with tremendous consistency has now become no better than wide receivers and with reception points included, too often are not even that good. There are more with fantasy relevancy and that is because there are fewer with big points.
Running Back Totals by Year
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Targets||Comps||Receiving Yards||Rcv TD||Tot Yd||Tot TD|
The total number of carries by running backs have declined each and every year for the last eight. But receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns are hitting all new highs. Problem is that it isn’t because those stud backs are adding to their rushing totals. It is because of the role of the third down backs who have only marginal yards as a rusher. On the plus side, there have never been more backs with at least some fantasy value.
Top Ten Running Backs Totals
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Targets||Comps||Receiving Yards||Rcv TD||FFP|
2015 had the bottom fall out for the Top 10 stud running backs. Overall the lowest fantasy points ever. It was down all over. Rushing yards plummeted. Even catches were down. The division of labor in backfields continues to ravage the fantasy value of even the best running backs. There was only one rusher with more than 300 carries. Just five years before there were seven backs with more than 300 carries. Keep driving past – this is a car wreck considering how mighty this position once was.
The Cardinals produced the #2 rushing yards in the league for 2015 which is astronomic for a team that has only rarely broken being average. The full season of Carson Palmer was a great help and kept defenses back peddling. Chris Johnson was having a career revival but broke his leg in Week 12. David Johnson took over and never looked back. Chris Johnson was re-signed to a one-year contract but at 31 years old, he’s not the future or even the present. There have been conflicting reports as to the role that Chris will take but the only reasonable assumption is plenty of David rushing and receiving. He gained 4.6 yards per carry and that was playing SEA and STL twice. In the playoffs, David turned in 128 total yards and one score with nine receptions in Carolina. The expectations are high with David Johnson.
The Falcons are yet another offense that had major surprises last season only it may not be the same for 2015. Tevin Coleman was drafted to become the starter but he fractured a rib and Devonta Freeman never looked back. While Freeman’s rookie season was unremarkable, he exploded in 2015 with an initial five game stretch that produced 578 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, plus 27 catches for 247 yards and one more score. That was about 165 total yards and two scores per game. But he cooled significantly for the second half of the season though he held onto the starting job and almost always exceeded 20 touches per game. Now the intention is to work Tevin Coleman into the mix more and work Freeman less. That division of labor is key to fantasy value for each but it won’t be certain until the season is underway. Freeman is expected to do less – and his five game super nova of last year is a memory. And Coleman will do more. Freeman’s role as a receiver will support his fantasy value in all games though. Coleman only caught two passes in all of last season.
The Ravens offensive line helped Justin Forsett double his previous career best season in 2014 but he was back to the same guy we knew from 2008 until 2013. Forsett broke his arm in Week 11 and only managed two decent games of the ten in which he played. He’s back and again starts despite being 31 years old. But Javorius Allen was the primary back when Forsett was gone and had only mediocre success with a 3.8 YPC on his 137 carries and he ran in just one score. He fared slightly better as a receiver. And Allen is back. The Ravens also drafted Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round who will compete for the #3 spot along with Lorenzo Taliaferro and Terrance West. The only player here capable of surprising is Dixon simply because he is an unknown. This is playing out to not only be a committee backfield, but one that may use up to five different backs over the season. The Ravens rushing schedule is a bit worse than 2015 as well. Training camp could change the depth chart but again – only if Dixon ends up to be an upgrade over the others. Otherwise, the workload will be split up.
This is the second year for both HC Rex Ryan and OC Greg Roman so more of the same should be expected and while their schedule may not be as good as last year, it is still one of the better ones for running backs. The commitment to the rushing game meant much fewer passes to the backs but a healthy 4.7 YPC means anyone carrying the ball is doing well. LeSean McCoy did not put up the big numbers as he did with the Eagles and he missed the final two games with a twisted knee and others with a hamstring injury. He only averaged 17 carries per game and never had more than 21. It was his least productive season since his rookie year in 2009. Karlos Williams was the touchdown hawk with seven rushing scores and he proved capable whenever he was given a bigger load. He will be spending his training camp trying to get out of the dog house from being so overweight in the offseason. The Bills would also mix in Mike Gillislee for a handful of touches each week as well. This is the same offense and players. A healthier McCoy will make a difference but the Bills are not shy about handing out touchdowns to Williams.
Jonathan Stewart finally had DeAngelo Williams out of the picture. He enjoyed his best year since 2011 but that still was only 1099 total yards and seven touchdowns and he missed the final three games of the season. He was little used as a receiver (16 catches) and would typically get right at 20 carries per game in most weeks. He certainly has a few good games but plenty of mediocre ones as well and the lack of receptions dooms his value in reception point leagues. The rookie Cameron Artis-Payne was only active for seven games and ended with only 45 carries for 183 yards. Mike Tolbert adds just enough to reduce the production of Stewart without actually offering any consistently decent production. No change to this offense that goes through Cam Newton in all facets, not through the backfield.
The Bears have a new offensive coordinator but it’s just QB coach Dowell Loggains and nothing will fundamentally change with without Tim Gase there anymore.The Bears overall had Top 10 numbers though the running back receptions fell. It will be an all new situation for 2016 since eight years of Matt Forte are now over and the backfield becomes some mixture of Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and the rookie Jordan Howard. the Bears have a very nice positive swing in their schedule that the backfield should exploit. This will be a committee backfield and more than last year. HC John Fox said the “hot hand” gets more work and that could change weekly. Langford was nothing special when he filled in last year aside from a two game stretch at midseason and he ended with only a 3.6 YPC. He was more the designated goal line scorer last year but Howard is a big back at 230 lbs. who won’t take too much action as a receiver. At best, Howard looks like the “Jeremy Hill” in this equation but Langford will be the primary and it will remain a timeshare all year.
Same as in Chicago, the Bengals have a new offensive coordinator but it is just the QB coach Ken Zampese. The offense will remain much as it did under Hue Jackson and the backfield remains the same as 2015. The numbers were down overall mostly because of a tougher schedule and a major sophomore slump by Jeremy Hill. But the schedule is lighter this year and won’t be as much of an issue. Giovani Bernard remains the “B” side of the rushing effort and has tallied around 50 catches in all three of his seasons. The numbers here should trend up at least incrementally for Hill as he seeks to rekindle that rookie magic that saw him run for 5.1 YPC and score nine times with 1339 total yards.
Hue Jackson slides over from the Bengals to both serve as head coach and to call the plays. That alone says the Browns are looking to improve on offense after a disastrous 2015 when a mediocre offense became much worse. Jackson will bring that backfield committee scenario with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson taking the Hill/Bennett roles. So long as Crowell has no more significant twitter situations, he’ll provide the bulk of the rushing though he’s only managed a career 4.0 YPC and has minimal experience as a receiver. Duke Johnson comes off a solid rookie season that only featured a 3.6 YPC on his 104 carries and no scores but he caught 61 passes for 534 yards and two scores. That receiver role is expected to grow even more in 2016 and he’s sure to be a favorite sleeper type in most reception point leagues. The lack of a feared passing offense means the rushing effort has been one of the league’s worst for several years.
Start up the band and get that hype wagon fired up. Ezekiel Elliott was drafted with the 1.04 pick and no other back was taken for the next 46 picks. He’s easily THE rookie running back in all fantasy drafts and will be going in the first round in most. The Cowboys offensive line made Darren McFadden look formidable last year and the Cowboys schedule is not that bad. Alfred Morris was brought over from the Redskins but he’s going to be a very distant #2 in the backfield at best. McFadden is recovering from surgery on his elbow and may not be ready for the start of the year. He and Morris will only fight for leftover scraps from Elliott who the team hopes to become the next Emmitt Smith. Ot at least something better than every other starting back they’ve had since Emmitt.
The only difference for the backfield this year is a much better rushing schedule and the addition of rookie Devontae Booker as the #3 running back – at least for now. OC Rick Dennison is back for his second year and C.J. Anderson was re-signed to a four-year contract for $18 million when a miscalculation ended with the Dolphins offering him more money than expected. But Anderson has two seasons where he’s been mostly a flop in the early weeks only to turn it up and end strongly. He will be the primary again and the Broncos will favor the rushing game at least a bit more without either Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler on the team any more. While Ronnie Hillman projects to be the #2 back and serve as the third-down player, the rookie Booker is also expected to be a factor at least as a receiver. Hillman’s time in Denver may close sooner than later if Booker looks as good in training camp as he did in the offseason. Booker has the most upside here but it all depends on what Anderson does in the first half of the season when he’s never met expectations.
There is optimism that the Lions rushing effort could be even better this year and overall it has been above average in most years. Granted a cumulative 3.7 YPC doesn’t look great, but the offense went with OC Jim Bob Cooter at mid-season last year with positive results. And Ameer Abdullah ended his rookie year with a 4.7 YPC once Cooter was at the controls. But his workload was shared with the departed Joique Bell and that doesn’t look to happen again. Theo Riddick turned in 80 receptions for 697 yards and three scores as the third down back. The offense will change with Calvin Johnson gone and the Lions intend to rely more on their backfield than in the recent past. It looks like at least an incremental increase over 2015 and the schedule is one of the lightest one for running backs this year. If Abdullah can step up to more carries as he appears capable, he could be a surprise this year. And Riddick remains a nice “deeper draft” add in reception point leagues for at least a bye week filler.
Green Bay Packers
This is the fourth year for OC Tom Clements so nothing is going to change – there is no one new in the backfield as well. The Packers have been cranking out the 2000+ total yard backfield for years and there’s really only two players to pay attention to this year. Eddie Lacey showed up fat in training camp last year and ended up being replaced at spots by James Starks which overall was almost a split of carries (187 vs. 148). But Lacy was golden for his first two seasons with over 1400 yards and 11+ touchdowns in the exact same offense and with the same players. Starks is good enough to pass by lacey when he is out of shape and not motivated enough. But a trimmer and more focused Lacey can be a big fantasy value with consistently good games. His fortunes are related to his physical shape and early observations had him in better shape this summer than last.
This will be the second season for OC George Godsey coming off a down year for the Texans rushers since Arian Foster only played in four games and his replacements were not up to the task. In comes Lamar Miller and the Texans drafted Tyler Ervin who is a but under-sized but can be used in spots as a change of pace. The rookie may end up just special teams for this year. Miller was under-used in Miami that secured the #32 ranking in running back carries last year. He now goes to the Texans where they ranked #1 last year. Miller was limited to around 250 to 260 carries per season in Miami. There will be no such limitation in Houston.
The Colts have long been below average in the use of running backs and even when Andrew Luck was out and the team needed better support, they ended up with the worst year yet from the backfield and a cumulative 3.5 YPC. The addition of Frank Gore merely gave the aging back a chance to show that he lost a step and was ineffective in an offense that desperately needed help. Gore returns as the primary back despite being 33 years old and coming off his worst full season. the Colts added Robert Turbin and Jordan Toddman to help boost the mediocrity and the offensive line projects to still be below average. A return of a healthy Andrew Luck is bound to help, but none of the backs here suggest anything good is going to happen. Gore remains the only “draftable” player though Josh Ferguson is an undrafted rookie who has the only upside on this entire team since he hasn’t yet proven to be nothing special. Training camp will help determine if anyone outside of Gore will matter. With one of the worst running back schedules, even Gore may not matter.
The Jaguars secured the rare “32-32” ranking in running back yards and touchdowns for 2015. In fairness, that wasn’t much different than any year since Maurice Jones-Drew left. The rookie T.J. Yeldon struggled as would any back behind that offensive line and his two decent showings were obscured by around 70 total yards in most games. He scored just three times all season and never gained more than 64 rush yards in any of his final six games. The Jaguars have added Chris Ivory which could help the overall numbers (which almost have to rise after a 32-32 year). But both players will split the workload with Ivory mostly rushing and Yeldon being the primary receiving back. Splitting the workload in the worst rushing offense from last year, with a sub-average offensive line against a bad rushing schedule is going to make more than incremental improvement hard. And fantasy value from a single back even harder to rely on.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs offensive line played better than expected despite defections in 2015 and ended with an overall 4.4 YPC average. OC Brad Childress was promoted from being an offensive consultant and not that much is going to change in Andy Reid’s offense anyway. Last year saw Jamaal Charles tear his ACL in Week 5 and the rest of the year was a search for continuity. The Chiefs fell to only 53 receptions by running backs though Charles already had 20 after four games before his injury. Charles is back and should be good for Week 1 but may not be seen much until then. Charles followed his 2011 ACL tear with 1745 total yards the next season but he’s 30 years old now and the plan is to rest him more. But he’s rarely had more than 250 carries in any season anyway. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West both had impressive games and the beefier Ware scored six times to only four for West as a rusher. But West can also act as a receiver while Ware is not involved in the passing game. The Charles owners have to cross their fingers that he can bounce back from the ACL injury and the #2 back is hard to determine since both West and Ware are going to be involved. West ran 160 times to only 72 runs by Ware last year. But Ware has worked on his receiving skills and could end up the #2 in Kansas City. The only certainty is that Charles will be the primary back and Knile Davis doesn’t matter any more.
Los Angeles Rams
New location won’t change the fact that Todd Gurley only started in Week 4 and yet ended with 1106 rush yards on 229 carries and scored ten times. He had a 4.8 YPC average and this year he’s healthier, knows the offense and has a slightly better rushing schedule for 2015. He’s one of the rare backs who are the central focus of their offense.
The Dolphins cleaned house this year and brought in Tim Gase from Chicago as head coach. Clyde Christensen comes over from the Colts where he was the QB coach to run the offense. Lamar Miller is gone and Jay Ajayi steps up to be the expected primary back. Ajayi was little used behind Miller last year and only ran 49 times with a 3.8 YPC average. He only caught seven passes and overall has one touchdown. to make the backfield even less clear is the addition of Arian Foster. Christensen already said that Ajayi remains the primary. But the addition of Foster makes a likely weaker rushing attack even less certain. the 30 year old Foster comes off a ruptured Achilles tendon last year and has missed games in each of the last three years due to injury. He’s expected to provide more help in the receiving game and will be drafted this summer by owners hoping he somehow rekindles his old form and takes over. That is less likely in this offense that will be more about passing downfield and that has a lesser offensive line. This is worth watching from the standpoint of Gase being great with offenses but all he has to work with is a little used second-year player and an aged back with an injury history.
Adrian Peterson already proved to be super-human returning from a torn ACL to producing a 2000 yard season the next year. He comes off a 1707 total yard year with 11 touchdowns. He may be 31 years old, but there’s no slowing down for him and every reason to expect yet another good year. He has one of the worst rushing schedules but he’s always been bigger than his schedule. They intend on using more shotgun offenses this year and that doesn’t play as well into his strengths but he’s still one of the elite backs and the center of his offense.
New England Patriots
This offense usually produces top overall stats from the backfield though how that happens is hard to forecast and subject to constant change. This year looks the worse yet. LeGarrette Blount comes off a serious hip injury and his health is not yet certain and may not be until Week 1. He could be the primary rusher again or he may be released if his hip proves worse than is known. Dion Lewis is only seven months removed from his ACL injury. But he was averaging five receptions per game until injured. James White also adds in as mostly a receiving back. Brandon Boldin is mostly a rusher. Donald Brown may make the final roster. In all there is no clarity here with the best two backs coming off significant injuries – that’s even if Blount is healthy yet. And nothing in training camp or preseason games is likely to clear up the smoke.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been producing big stats from their backfield for several seasons and while Drew Brees throws for a little less every season, this unit remains very productive. What is disappointing is that it rarely produces any single back with large numbers. Mark Ingram has been more productive in recent years but is almost always missing three to six games every year and still has yet to break 1000 rushing yards. He did step up with 50 receptions for 405 yards last year during his 12 games for almost double his previous best. C.J. Spiller came over last year and seemed to be a great fit into an offense that loves to throw to the backs. But he never seemed to get over his knee surgery last summer and was a bitter disappointment. He says he is 100% healthy now and will return to form. Tim Hightower showed up at midseason of 2015 and though he was out of the NFL for three years, he returned to also mix in with 504 total yards and four scores. This remains a backfield with great total stats and yet no real stars to own other than Ingram during the weeks that he is healthy. Spiller could show up in preseason games and buy more confidence, but this offense as prolific as it usually is doesn’t produce star running backs. There were eight different backs with at least one touch last year.
New York Giants
The Giants finally turned over the coaching staff but that only meant promoting up OC Ben McAdoo to being the head coach and QB coach Mike Sullivan becoming the offensive coordinator. Not a lot is going to change here for the backfield other than adding Paul Perkins in the fifth round. The good news is that the Giants have one of the best running back schedules in the NFL this year. Less impressive is that it isn’t all that better than last year. Rashad Jennings turned in 195 carries for 863 yards and just three scores. The added receptions for 2015 went to Shane Vereen who ended with 59 catches for 495 yards and four scores as a receiver but never rushed more than six times in any game. And his catches were highly inconsistent with two games of eight receptions and two with none. Andre Williams owns a career average of 3.1 YPC and is expected to be replaced by Perkins. There has been talk about the 31-year-old Jennings getting more work as a rusher but this offense will remain a committee approach and unlikely to produce any running backs with significant stats.
New York Jets
The Jets enter the second season under OC Chan Gailey. But the offense did not look all that much changed other than nearly doubling the passes thrown to running backs. The rushing effort was no more successful despite the Jets finally owning a passing offense that had to be respected. Chris Ivory had his career best season with 1287 yards and eight touchdowns but only caught 30 passes for 217 yards. That is significant because Matt Forte shows up as one of the best pass-catching backs in the last eight years. He never had fewer than 44 receptions in any season. But Bilal Powell was the third down back with a team high 47 receptions last year in only 11 games played. The offense was sorting out what it had in the backfield and four different backs ran 30+ times. That should be better focused this year with Forte as the primary back – who can catch – and Powell as a complementary back – who can catch. Of course it all hinges on Ryan Fitzpatrick signing on again. The 31-year-old Forte is realistically in some decline but will still provide at least decent fantasy stats thanks to his added catches. And the backfield should settle down to just him and Powell.
The Raiders enter the second season with OC Bill Musgrave and the results from 2015 were not that different than any other recent year. Latavius Murray remains the starter and he did gain 1066 yards on 266 carries while adding 41 catches for 232 yards. But that was less than expected or desired. Murray ended with 307 touches but did not have that much to show for it. No other back rushed more than 24 times. The schedule is slightly better and the offense now operates to plan. And the passing game should be better as well. But the Raiders also spent their fifth round pick on DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech. The 5-8/224 lb. back will play a role this year at least as a complementary runner and a third down back since he is an accomplished receiver as well. Murray has a firm grip on the starting job but Washington could buy himself more playing time with a good training camp. The coaches aren’t in love with Murray after last year and will be willing to try new things if they make sense. But only Murray and Washington carry any fantasy relevancy this year.
Head coach Chip Kelly is gone to San Francisco and with him a backfield that usually produces Top 10 stats and 400+ carries to share. Now Doug Pederson is the HC after being the offensive coordinator at KC and OC Frank Reich trades the Chargers for the Eagles. Left behind is a very good run-blocking line. But the personnel is a bit less settled. Ryan Mathews gets a big chance at being the primary back with DeMarco Murray gone. There is a question as to how good a fit he will be in this offense but he is the only back on the roster with much rushing experience and success. Darren Sproles will serve as the third down back though at 33 years old, his role won’t be extensive and he only managed a 3.8 YPC when he did rush the ball in 2015. This offense also will not be throwing another 128 completions to the backs. And the addition of Wendall Smallwood from West Virginia will also be worth tracking in training camp since he could end up taking work away from Sproles. This will be a committee backfield that favors Mathews the most. But Smallwood could buy more playing time with a big camp and that will come at the expense of Sproles.
Just when it looked like the Steelers backfield was back to full strength, reports are that Le’Veon Bell may be suspended for four games for failing to show up for a drug test(s). This backfield is nothing but Bell and DeAngelo Williams who shattered all expectations last year when Bell was out from his MCL injury. Bell is wildly productive when healthy but even the aging Williams is a fantasy gem behind that offensive line. No changes here other than the chance that Bell misses the first week.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers brought over OC Ken Whisenhunt who was released after being the Titans head coach. But Whisenhunt was the Chargers offensive coordinator before taking the Titans job for two years. The 2013 stats above were with Whisenhunt directing the offense. And he was obviously successful with this offense. the backfield brings back the same players from 2015 with second-year back Melvin Gordon still looking for that elusive first NFL touchdown and with a disappointing 3.5 YPC. Ryan Mathews had his career best season in 2013 with Whisenhunt. Danny Woodhead comes off his best season to date but it was only slightly better than what he did in 2013 with Whisenhunt (80-775-6 as a receiver) and that was buoyed by a three touchdown game in Oakland. The offense will improve again with Whisenhunt there and it should be help Woodhead to squeeze out one more big year. And more importantly, it should help Gordon who also gets an easier running back schedule to go against.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers head onto their next set of coaches but somehow snagged HC Chip Kelly for an offense unlike anything seen here for a very long time. The 49ers were one of the very worst teams rushing the ball last year and the signing of Reggie Bush did nothing. While he is gone, this is essentially the same entire offense from last year in terms of personnel. Kelly’s offense should have a dramatic effect on the backfield production since he always had 400+ carries each season in Philadelphia and a unit that posted Top 10 stats each year. The 49ers also have a far better running back schedule than last year. The needle is pointing up for Carlos Hyde so long as he can stay healthy and is over his foot injury from 2015. The 49ers burned through ten different backs last year and that should settle back to primarily Hyde with Shaun Draughn there as a complement and to rest Hyde.
The Seahawks finally move on from Marshawn Lynch and the backfield may not be as central to the offense has it has for the last several seasons. The success of the passing game down the stretch in 2015 was undeniably successful and will again take center stage for this season. OC Darrell Bevell is still there for the sixth year but it is not business as usual. Thomas Rawls is the starter now provided that his broken ankle has completely healed. He is expected to be available for the start of the season and may get in work in training camp as well. Rawls turned in four 100+ yard games last year but had several others with only marginal results. And he doesn’t play any consistent role as a receiver. Fred Jackson is gone but this offense doesn’t throw that much to the running backs anyway. C.J. Prossie was taken in the third round of the 2016 draft and immediately seemed promising but missed the offseason with a hip flexor and has plenty of ground to make up before expecting to do much. Christine Michael remains only as the back-up they hope they never need. This backfield will produce fantasy relevant points and that so far looks to be only Rawls – if he is healthy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What a difference a year makes. Doug Martin now has two monster seasons sandwiching two very forgettable ones. And the Buccaneers have a good running back schedule again. The Buccaneers went from the 30th best in running back yards to #1 in just one season. Martin ran for 1402 yards on 288 carries and Charles Sims settled down into his third down role and caught 51 passes for 561 yards. This offense should not change since all they did was to move HC Dirk Koetter up from being the offensive coordinator. No changes here and the outlook remains good for both Martin and Sims to produce good seasons.
The Titans cleaned house and now new HC Mike Mularkey moves up from being the interim HC/TE coach there last year. OC Terry Robiskie was the Falcons WR coach. That doesn’t appear as positive as needed given Mularkey’s history. But the backfield is all new. DeMarco Murray was brought on just 18 months removed from being the #1 rusher in the NFL and the Titans drafted Derrick Henry out of Alabama. That says the Titans are committed to rushing the ball and improving on their dismal results of the last two years. Murray is expected to be the workhorse here though the offensive line will be the worst he’s been behind. Henry could become a factor if Murray is injured as he has historically been likely to do. But otherwise the big back from Bama is likely to take it easier after a brutal 395 carries last year in college.
This is the third year for this offense but the scoring dropped significantly last season and Alfred Morris lead the team with just 751 yards on 202 carries. He’s moved on to the Cowboys and Matt Jones looks to improve upon his mostly quiet rookie season. Jones only averaged 3.4 YPC in 2015 and never had more than three catches in any game if in fact he had any. Chris Thompson was the receiving back with 35 catches for 240 yards but he is recovering from shoulder surgery. there is not much else on this roster. That should give Jones a much heavier workload this year but his running back schedule is worse than last year. He has upside and opportunity this year to be sure. His best aspect is just a lack of competition around him.