There is no better position for suddenly creating fantasy stars than running back. Thanks to injury or just promotion, a handful of running backs suddenly get their shot to start each year. They instantly become fantasy difference makers who were sitting idly on your roster or even on the league waiver wire. These are what fantasy dreams are made of.
Last year witnessed several running backs vault into a starting role and delivered sleepers like Devonta Freeman, Danny Woodhead, DeAngelo Williams and David Johnson. Names that now dot the upper tiers of fantasy running backs. After drafting your starting lineup, there’s no better investment than mining for that next surprise fantasy stud.
Consider these backs as the best positioned for a chance to become “The New Guy”.
DeAndre Washington (Raiders) – Still the clear back-up for Latavius Murray, the rookie has already scaled the depth chart and touts an impressive resume’ from Texas Tech. The four-year back caught 124 passes in college and averaged 6.4 yards per carry just last year. He’ll be little more than change-of-pace this year unless Murray misses time. The Raiders have a much easier schedule and Murray needs to improve since he fell to a 4.0 yards per carry average in 2015. Washington will be involved in some measure regardless and ready to assume the primary role if needed.
Chris Johnson (Cardinals) – He became the starter when Andre Ellington was injured in Week 1 and then lost the job to David Johnson when he broke his own leg during Week 12. He re-signed for one year with the Cardinals and will still have a support role each week. Should David Johnson be injured, Chris Johnson moves back to the same role that saw him turn in four 100-yard efforts in 2015. The Cardinals high-powered offense assures success for any back and even more for last year’s initial primary back.
Devontae Booker (Broncos) – The two-year star for Utah slid in the draft because of a torn meniscus late last year. But he’s healthy now and already has a role as the third-down back. Booker caught 80 passes for the Utes and impressed in that role during OTA’s and the preseason. He’ll remain behind C.J. Anderson who was banged up the last two years while only shouldering a part-time workload. If he starts slowly for the third straight season, Anderson will lose carries to the rookie. And if Anderson breaks down under his full-time volume, Booker’s already gained the confidence of coaching staff to become the new starter.
Christine Michael (Seahawks) – These are new adventures for Michael after being traded to the Cowboys last year, released and then spending time on the Redskins practice squad for a month before returning back to Seattle. Entering his fourth season, Michael has taken a new attitude and dedication that has resulted in his reassuming the back-up role to Thomas Rawls. He’ll have at least some every-week value as well since he’s expected to provide a “one-two punch” with Rawls. He’s lost weight to become quicker and continued to impress throughout the spring and preseason. Should Rawls be slow to return from his ankle surgery or miss any further time, Michael will finally take advantage of an opportunity that was there all along.
Robert Turbin (Colts) – The preseason was all about hyping the undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson but his outlook withered in training camp and preseason games. Turbin is now the immediate back-up for Frank Gore who turned 33 years old in May. He’s always been durable but the realities of his age and declining effectiveness means Turbin – or possibly Ferguson later in the season – may need to step in and carry the rushing effort for the Colts. Even with all the offensive problems of last year, Gore still managed 1,234 total yards and seven scores.
Mike Davis (49ers) – After missing most of his rookie season with a broken hand, Davis is back into the picture this year. The ex-Gamecock star was a junior entry in the 2015 draft and turned in a forgettable year. But he’s had at least some success in the preseason and is in line behind only Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn. Hyde has yet to remain healthy even as a part-timer for two seasons and Draughn is a 29-year-old veteran journeyman on his fourth NFL team. Davis still needs to learn better pass blocking but he has the most raw talent of any rusher should Hyde extend his consistent injury streak.
Kenjon Barner (Eagles) – Like Turbin of the Colts, Barner rose to being the primary back-up after the rookie Wendell Smallwood turned a promising start into an injury-marred preseason. Smallwood suffered a quad strain and now has a concussion. Barner had only limited use in Philadelphia last year and stands behind Ryan Mathews who already missed 13 games over the last two years due to injuries. The 33-year-old Darren Sproles will supply the third down role but already saw a decline in 2015. There is very likely opportunity down the road with the Eagles that will be filled with Barner unless Smallwood can stay healthy and quickly learn the offense.
Spencer Ware (Chiefs) – There is plenty to like about Ware who already helped fill in for the injured Jamaal Charles last year. Ware rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on his 72 runs and scored six touchdowns. He’s assumed the clear #2 spot behind Charles who won’t have any action in the preseason while recovering from the second ACL tear of his career. At 30 years of age, Charles is no lock to return to form or remain healthy this year. Charcandrick West would also figure in should that happen but Ware would become the primary back in an offense that loves to run.
Derrick Henry (Titans) – What is not to like about a rookie that comes off a national championship and who just won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Award after breaking the SEC single season rushing record with 2,219 yards? He also holds the national high school football record with 12,124 career rushing yards. He’ll figure in the backfield already but big games only need DeMarco Murray to miss time injured as he did in four of the last five years.
DeAngelo Williams (Steelers) – There is no real shock here given that Williams already exceeded all expectations when he turned in 1,274 total yards and 11 touchdowns for his first season with the Steelers. But once again, he will replace Le’Veon Bell to start the year and gets three games instead of the two in 2015. When Bell left with torn knee ligaments in Week 8, Williams stepped back in eight scores over the final eight games and topped 100 total yards six times. Bell looks healthy again but that was true last year.
When you draft your roster depth, make sure to seed them with high upside players like these. Every season provides sudden player value when injuries shake up the depth chart and there is no better position than running back to prepare for the inevitable. Better to have “the next guy up” already on your team than to risk a waiver wire fight.