One of the big talkers heading into 2016 fantasy drafts was that the era of running backs ruling the roost were over. The number of 1,000-yard rushers and double digit touchdown scorers was in decline for the past several years, but things hit a new low last year when the yardage disparity between receivers and running backs was as lopsided as it has ever been – to the point where the run on running backs didn’t start right out of the gate like it always has.
In 2016, there were 26 wide receivers and tight ends that topped 1,000 receiving yards and 13 who scored 10 or more touchdowns. There were only seven running backs who ran for 1,000 yards – Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Todd Gurley, Darren McFadden, Chris Ivory, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman. Of those, only two or three were first-round draft picks. There were only five running backs who scored double-digit rushing TDs – Peterson, Gurley, Freeman, Jeremy Hill and DeAngelo Williams.
The result of that forced fantasy owners to take the approach so many coaches and general managers have taken – the top end talent is with receivers and productive running backs can be drafted after the first round.
But, as we approach the midway point of the fantasy regular season, it would appear running backs are making their own stand against the odds. While it is still early in the season, 17 running backs are currently on pace to top 1,000 yards – Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Lamar Miller, David Johnson, Freeman, LaGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Matt Jones, Isaiah Crowell, Carlos Hyde, Spencer Ware, Terrance West, Melvin Gordon, Eddie Lacy, Christine Michael and Matt Forte.
What makes that number even more impressive is that only one of the 17 was among the Magnificent Seven that topped 1,000 yards last season and there are twice as many running backs that are on pace to score 10 or more rushing touchdowns.
When it comes to the giant statistical days, receivers are still more likely to post the back-breaking scoring totals that win weeks for fantasy owners. But, before we start eulogizing running backs for being an extinct fantasy species, the 2016 RB crop seems to be making a statement that the reports of their death has been premature and exaggerated.
- For all the talking-head types that opined that a .500 record could win the NFC East this year, they may want a little ketchup to help choke down that dinner of crow. The Giants are at .500 and aren’t in sole possession of first place. They’re in sole possession of last place.
- Hate the Detroit Lions if you must, but they’ve quietly put together a 3-3 record with back-to-back home wins against the Eagles and Rams and their three losses have come by a total of 11 points.
- Of their first five games, Jacksonville has had games decided by one, two, three and four points – winning two and losing two. They may not be great, but their games all seem to come down to the end.
- In four of their five games, the Saints have allowed 34 points or more. The only one they didn’t was the 16-13 snoozer against the Giants, where everyone was expecting 1,000 yards of offense and 100 points.
- Is Matt Ryan a MVP candidate? In the third quarter alone Sunday, he lit up Seattle for 220 yards and three touchdowns, making a case that these Falcons may be here to stay.
- Fat dudes enjoy rest, perhaps no more so than Andy Reid. In his coaching career with the Eagles and Chiefs, his teams are now 18-2 coming out of bye weeks.
The Razor’s Edge
10. I Never Was a Good Speller – For the second straight week, a player took the field wearing a jersey that was misspelled. Last week it was Everson Griffen (not Griffin). This week, it was Prince Amukamara (not Amuakmara). It begs the question as to not only who got it wrong, but how could the equipment guys and the players themselves not realize the name was wrong before they took the field? We knew there would be no math, but we thought we were safe when it came to spelling.
9. Chicago Hope? – The Bears have just one win this season, but it looked like that would change Sunday. Chicago led 13-0 heading into the fourth quarter, ran 22 more plays that Jacksonville and held the ball for almost 36 minutes. But, they allowed 10 points in a 2:10 span of the fourth quarter and ended up losing 17-16. When you play a near-perfect game for 55 minutes and lose, maybe it’s not them, it’s you. It also doesn’t help when you score more than 17 points just once in six games and you have Green Bay and Minnesota coming up in the next two weeks.
8. You Oughta Be In Pictures – For those with a keen eye, you noticed something strange during the Cowboys-Packers game Sunday. FOX was pimping out its slate of games for next week, with an emphasis on Minnesota-Philadelphia game. The graphic had a photo of Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford to hype the return of Bradford to Philly. There was only problem. Yeah, that was Bradford’s head all right. And it was his No. 8. But it was clearly photoshopped on Teddy Bridgewater’s body – complete with the big Mickey Mouse gloves Bridgewater wears. The last time I saw a retouched photo that lame, it was on a Topps baseball card in the 1970s. Seeing as Minnesota had already played a couple of games on the FOX, they likely had numerous action shots of Bradford available, yet opted to go the lazy route and let a computer nerd design their graphics. C’mon FOX. You’re better than that.
7. Broncos Bucked – The Denver defense allowed only one touchdown to San Diego, but, when your offense throws 50 passes and scores just three points in the first 50 minutes of a game, you don’t win very often. Denver had a chance to erase the memory of its Week 5 loss, but, coming off a home loss to Atlanta, falling to the Chargers isn’t what makes for a team eyeballing a Super Bowl repeat. Their defense remains a force to be reckoned with, but allowing San Diego to score six times and open a 21-3 lead that was diminished in garbage time isn’t the kind of back-to-back slate that lends itself to believing in a Super Bowl return.
6. W-CRAP in Cincinnati – The Bengals have had one of the more difficult schedules coming out of the gate with four of their first six games on the road and have had to play Pittsburgh, Dallas and New England on the road and Denver at home. But, their offense has been completely inept. The Ginger Ninja has just six touchdown passes and the Bengals haven’t scored more than 23 points yet this season. A.J. Green is still a stud, but the Bengals need to turn things around quickly or their 2016 season might slip away from them.
5. Rust on the Steel Curtain – The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL and, as such, will lose tough games on the road and protect their home turf. It’s what good teams do. But, when you allow the hapless Dolphins to roll up 30 points on you, it’s cause for concern – especially in light of the 34-3 beating they got handed to them by the Eagles earlier in the season. Throw in that Ben Roethlisberger is on the shelf for at least a couple of weeks and will likely be even more immobile when he is rushed back, a Super Bowl season could be getting closer to being derailed than it was thought possible. They Steelers are far from dead, but taking road hits like they have in the last month isn’t a good sign.
4. The Land of Whine and Cheese – Few fans bases accept defeat with less grace or understanding than the Packers. They delude themselves into believing that every year is going to be their year and, when they lose, the excuses are plentiful and never the result of an opponent scheming against them. Aaron Rodgers accomplished something Sunday. He threw a touchdown in the second half – something he hadn’t done all season up to that point. But, the reality was that a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back and a patchwork defense all conspired to manhandle the Packers on their home turf. That isn’t as hard to do as it used to be. Green Bay lost at home against all three division opponents last year and the Lambeau mystique isn’t what it used to be. There’s no shame in losing to Minnesota and Dallas, who are a combined 10-1 this season, but to deny that they’re better teams despite clear 60-minute visual evidence of that is sad for Packer faithful who remain delusional as the skill level of their team.
3. Remove Your Kaep and Remain Standing – Regardless of where you stand on Colin Kaepernick’s stance on the National Anthem, one thing almost everyone can agree on is that Kaepernick is a garbage quarterback. Two head coaches determined he didn’t have the chops to give the 49ers a better chance to win than Blaine Gabbert – a true stiff in his own right. On Sunday, he was finally given the chance to prove himself and he did – completing just 13 of 29 passes with a slew of ugly incompletions and helped his team turn a 14-13 second quarter deficit into a 45-16 blowout. Granted, Kaepernick doesn’t play defense, so he wasn’t responsible for allowing 44 rushes for 312 yards and four TDs for the Bills, but he could have stopped the bleeding. Take a knee again, Colin. It’s what you do best.
2. Puttin’ Down the Horse – The only good news about being a team in the AFC South is that, even if you stink, you’re still going to be in the division title race at Thanksgiving because everyone else is pedestrian as well. With three minutes to go in Sunday night’s game, the Colts had a 14-point lead on the road in Houston and seemed primed to take over first in mild, mild South. Instead, they allowed two late touchdowns, including one in which the Texans didn’t have any time outs left, but needed just three plays to go 53 yards and tie the game – and then win in overtime. The Colts are now 0-2 in the division, 1-3 in the conference and 2-4 overall. Even in a weak division, the hole they’ve dug is likely their own grave.
1. Let the Baby Have His Bottle – It’s funny how life works for Cam Newton. There has been perhaps no greater front-runner in the recent history of the NFL. Between the Superman pull on the front of his jersey to the choreographed celebrations when he scores a touchdown, when Newton loses, he often acts like a spoiled child. Sunday was no exception, as he played the “next question” card too often and then stormed off the interview podium. The difference between acting like a sad toddler at the Super Bowl is one thing, but when you’ve gone from 15-1 to 1-5, you need to be asking yourself hard questions, not getting pissy and petulant when others do.