Fantasy Football Preseason Preview: Running Backs

Fantasy Football Preseason Preview: Running Backs


Fantasy Football Preseason Preview: Running Backs


OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Receivers

Running backs are no longer just a fantasy vestige of past glory. Scoring was up and the top three backs now dominate the start of every fantasy draft. Ezekiel Elliott blew up behind the best offensive line in the NFL and fantasy drafts show all new hype hope for the workhorse back. Judging by the Average Draft, this is the Year of the Rookie Running Back since four of them make up the first 20 running backs drafted. It was rare enough for there to be even just one in recent years.

Running Back Totals by Year

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD Tot Yd Tot TD
2009 12,410 53,181 376 3,358 2,437 19,275 84 72,456 460
2010 12,138 50,698 344 3,358 2,462 19,571 71 70,269 415
2011 12,078 52,034 324 3,373 2,430 19,694 75 71,728 399
2012 12,042 51,029 332 3258 2,361 18,849 66 69,878 398
2013 11,915 48,784 344 3,510 2,581 20,030 84 68,814 428
2014 11,715 48,338 324 3,463 2,530 20,368 100 68,706 424
2015 11,480 47,353 293 3,614 2,682 22,347 109 69,700 402
2016 11,485 47,724 363 3,395 2,533 20,400 94 68,124 457

The number of carries and rushing yards remain almost identical in each of the last four years – perhaps even bottomed out the last two years. After a big year as receivers in 2015, running backs fell back to roughly their normal levels of the last eight years.

But there was one big change. The 363 rushing touchdowns by running backs were the highest in the last seven years – up 25% over 2015. That’s a huge leap for a category that was long on the decline. Overall – about the same touches and yardage but letting the running backs score is on the rise even if it comes at the expense of passing touchdowns.

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Top Ten Running Backs Totals

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD FFP
2009 2,866 14,238 101 577 415 3,401 11 2,772
2010 2,751 12,872 100 607 463 4,033 17 2,393
2011 2,544 11,688 97 616 456 4,112 21 2,289
2012 2,974 14,287 105 519 381 2,953 10 2,396
2013 2,686 12,176 92 662 505 4,319 26 2,358
2014 2,614 12,457 91 663 508 4,243 26 2,372
2015 2,359 10,443 82 512 395 3,318 14 1,952
2016 2,640 12,285 111 615 467 4,127 20 2,426

The same phenomena showed up in the top ten fantasy backs. Their production was in line with previous years other than the disaster that was 2015. But their rushing touchdowns went up 35% from a horrible 82 up to 111 that signals the change in play calling near the end zone.

There are many unsettled backfield situations that can greatly benefit, or kill, your fantasy team. Understanding where each team is going into training camp and the season helps to find those high-value sleepers.

Arizona Cardinals

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 356 1,217 3.4 6 76 662 5 1,879 11 22 21
2015 410 1,884 4.6 15 60 683 4 2,567 19 3 2
2016 374 1,599 4.3 19 93 970 4 2,569 23 3 4

No questions here. David Johnson is an elite back who not only produces top rushing stats, but also is a prolific receiver from the backfield. His back-up is rarely drafted because there’s no certainty who that would be should Johnson be unable to play. Andre Ellington was almost converted into a wideout but remains in the backfield.  Kerwynn Williams and the fifth-round pick of T.J. Logan round out the depth chart that you will never see.

With Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald playing out their twilight years, Johnson is in line for another heavy workload.

Check out our running back sleepers for this season.

Atlanta Falcons

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 336 1,316 3.9 10 101 830 6 2,146 16 15 12
2015 382 1,543 4.0 13 97 775 5 2,318 18 14 5
2016 379 1,757 4.6 19 93 946 6 2,703 25 1 1

There are no changes other than losing OC Kyle Shanahan who was instrumental in the success of the offense for the last two seasons.  The Falcons were top ten in carries and rushing touchdowns those years and top five in all the categories for running back receptions.

Devonta Freeman ended with a top six season (PPR) in 2016 and he enters a contract year. While he shares with Tevin Coleman, both are productive enough to merit fantasy starts. Despite the change in offensive coordinators to Steve Sarkisian, it will be business as usual for one of the top offenses in the NFL.

Baltimore Ravens

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 402 1,936 4.8 14 76 599 1 2,535 15 5 13
2015 351 1,390 4.0 4 127 879 6 2,269 10 15 24
2016 327 1,310 4.0 8 118 725 2 2,035 10 19 23

This committee backfield produces marginal fantasy value using Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. West starts the year better since Dixon serves a four-game suspension but it returns to the same committee when he returns.  OC Marty Mornhinweg returns after taking over in Week 5 last year so there is little change.

Danny Woodhead also enters the mix and that only serves to water down the fantasy value even more. He’ll drain off receptions from Dixon and West and limit them even more. Even combined this is only an average backfield and in most weeks will get split out three ways.

In the best case, West might take around 15 touches per game. Woodhead could dig into that.

Buffalo Bills

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 366 1,400 3.8 5 114 860 2 2,260 7 10 28
2015 378 1,765 4.7 14 60 487 4 2,252 18 17 6
2016 382 1,948 5.1 23 73 553 2 2,501 25 6 2

The Bills have all new coaches but Rick Dennison takes over the offense having last been the coordinator in Denver. Those were not great years for Broncos running backs but they also had injury and personnel issues that got in the way. LeSean McCoy was a top fantasy back last year and his workload may be increasing. Dennison has already indicated that McCoy will gain work as a receiver in addition to his rushing workload. There’s no concern that McCoy will be any less used or effective.

Jonathan Williams was a fifth-round pick last year and played behind the now-departed Mike Gillislee. Williams is a much-needed handcuff for McCoy and may end up with fantasy value regardless. HC Sean McDermott said that Williams needs to develop and he’s heading into training camp as the No. 2 back. McCoy is a safe pick this year but he is 29 years old. He’s missed time in each of the last two seasons.

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Carolina Panthers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 354 1,378 3.9 5 52 409 2 1,787 7 29 31
2015 374 1,536 4.1 9 51 375 4 1,911 13 27 14
2016 346 1,347 3.9 11 44 369 1 1,716 12 30 21

Despite having  Mike Shula as offensive coordinator for the last four years, the Panthers backfield is expected to change for 2017. Jonathan Stewart returns for his tenth NFL season and at 30 years old is on the back nine of his career.  He regressed last season though with only a 3.8 yard per carry average and he only caught eight passes. Stewart hasn’t played in all 16 games of a season since 2011 and his age isn’t going to help his durability.

But the Panthers used their 1.08 pick on Christian McCaffrey and with that a sign that it will not be business as usual. The Panthers ranked dead last in running back targets and catches for the last two years and now have a very good receiving back they paid big to get. Stewart may have one or two years left – maybe not – and McCaffrey represents the future. But the Panthers are looking to change their offense and incorporate passing to the running backs.

This year will be a timeshare at the position and Stewart will be the primary rusher so long as he is healthy. McCaffrey should carry fantasy value every week as well from his expected receptions. It is easy to over-value  McCaffrey  since Stewart is still the primary rusher but he is not just an eventual replacement for Stewart. The rookie will be an all-new facet of the offense.

Chicago Bears

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 302 1,96 4.0 6 108 864 4 2,060 10 20 23
2015 424 1,46 3.9 12 70 697 5 2,343 17 9 8
2016 353 1,657 4.7 10 55 509 1 2,166 11 16 22

The Bears only needed three weeks to discover that their fifth-round pick of Jordan Howard offered a major boost to the offense. Howard not only ended with 1,313 rushing yards but turned in a 5.2 yard per carry rushing average. He rushed for over 85 yards in nearly every game.

No changes here and no real reason to draft his back-up since both Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey are involved.

Cincinnati Bengals

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 415 1,874 4.5 15 90 726 2 2,600 17 3 6
2015 381 1,528 4.0 13 82 744 2 2,272 15 14 10
2016 393 1,535 3.9 13 79 668 1 2,203 14 13 15

This is another team with a rookie back that hold promise. The Bengals used their 2.16 pick to grab Joe Mixon and he’s been a hot property in fantasy drafts going as early as the third round. The Bengals have long relied on a committee backfield with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard playing the role of Thunder and Lightning. But Bernard tore his ACL last year and has been the minor half as a rusher with fewer than 10 carries in most games. His role as a receiver helps his fantasy value but he rarely catches more than three or four passes per game. There is no certainty that Bernard will be 100% for the start of the season.

Hill turned in a big rookie season but disappointed for the last two years. He’s failed to top 3.8 yards per carry for those seasons and his workload is expected to change dramatically with Mixon on board. The Bengals like to rush the ball and they almost always are top ten in running back carries. The expectation is that Mixon is the primary rusher and his receiving ability involves him even further.

All three backs are still in play and the notion that Mixon can step into a full-time workload goes against recent history for the team. He’s the most talented back on the roster and a fantasy bonanza – if they actually reduce the committee approach of the past.

Cleveland Browns

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 427 1,615 3.8 16 32 226 1 1,841 17 28 7
2015 310 1,147 3.7 4 88 740 3 1,887 7 28 30
2016 279 1,346 4.8 9 102 904 0 2,250 9 12 25

The problem with the Browns isn’t  blocking – they have a great offensive line. It is not talent since Isaiah Crowell gained 4.8 yards per carry last year. It is that the rest of the offense has been so bad for the last two years that there are too few carries. The Browns ranked dead last in the NFL for 2016 with only 279 rushes by a running back. Crowell ended with just 198 carries despite playing in all 16 games.

There is optimism that the Browns will be better though as much is said every year. Crowell was still top 15 as fantasy back last year and could push for the top ten if the rest of the offense actually improves. Duke Johnson offers only a few relief carries and adds three catches or so per game. In a larger league with reception points, Johnson carries fantasy value but Crowell is the only sure thing here.

The quarterback situation doesn’t appear much better this year so that brings risk to Crowell in limited carries again.

Dallas Cowboys

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 473 2,287 4.8 16 80 657 0 2,944 16 1 8
2015 367 1,659 4.5 8 79 657 0 2,316 8 12 28
2016 426 1,997 4.7 18 58 537 1 2,534 19 5 7

Ezekiel Elliott enjoyed a monster rookie season with 1,631 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. His “halo effect” is generating renewed interest in rookie running backs. He put a small chink in the armor of committee backfields as well since he excelled as a workhorse back. For fantasy purposes, Elliott has at least some impact on the rest of the offenses in the NFL. The Cowboys are even planning on using him more as a receiver this year so he should be safe from any sophomore slump.

Denver Broncos

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 400 1,749 4.4 15 68 550 3 2,299 18 9 4
2015 377 1,631 4.3 12 55 345 0 1,976 12 24 17
2016 368 1,392 3.8 11 61 546 3 1,938 14 24 16

There is a new scheme in Denver with Mike McCoy returning to run the offense after spending a few years as the head coach for the Chargers. There is fantasy value here to be sure with a very nice schedule and a reason to expect the Broncos to rely on the run as much as they can. But how that plays out is less certain with an admitted committee approach to be used.

C.J. Anderson is the primary back at least going into camp but likely for the season as well. Anderson has been effective in spots but tore his meniscus  last year and missed nine games. Devontae Booker is also involved though hasn’t proven to be more than just a relief player and not capable of taking a full workload. The Broncos also added Jamaal Charles who is also coming off knee surgery but the 31-year-old ex-Chief hasn’t lasted more than five games for the last two years.

Anderson should get the biggest share of work and it could become larger if Charles flames out and doesn’t become a part of the rotation. There is opportunity here.  The schedule is advantageous and there is at least a chance that Anderson gets enough work to merit a weekly fantasy start.

Detroit Lions

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 346 1,300 3.8 9 113 930 6 2,230 15 12 15
2015 301 1,104 3.7 6 135 1,216 5 2,320 11 10 20
2016 301 1,095 3.6 6 89 699 6 1,794 12 28 20

The Lions have struggled to find an effective backfield for many years. Last year was even worse than usual with Ameer Abdullah only lasting two games and third down back Theo Riddick pressed into full-time duty. The Lions intend to once again rely on the oft-injured back who has been effective when healthy.

Riddick retains fantasy value in reception point leagues since he usually catches five or more passes per game. And Abdullah has value if only because the Lions did not add any challengers. If Abdullah remains healthy he should outperform his draft slot. But the Lions have ranked poorly with running backs for many years and Abdullah hasn’t spawned much confidence that it will  change.

Green Bay Packers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 371 1,621 4.4 12 65 601 4 2,222 16 13 10
2015 360 1,441 4.0 7 85 790 7 2,231 14 18 12
2016 292 1,263 4.3 6 80 571 3 1,834 9 26 27

The Packers backfield is normally very productive but fell onto hard times in 2016 when Eddie Lacy missed the final 11 games due to an ankle injury. The Packers ended up converting wideout Ty Montgomery into being the primary running back. Lacy is now gone and the backfield is very unsettled.

There is opportunity here should Montgomery get a full-time load but he never did in 2016 when he was limited to 11 carries or fewer in all but one game. The Packers used the third day of the draft to acquire Jamaal Williams (4.28), Aaron Jones (5.39) and Devante Mays (7.20). It was a surprise that they did not bring in a veteran free agent or use a higher pick on the position.

That makes Montgomery the primary back but it is unlikely that the ex-wideout suddenly becomes a 20-carry powerhouse. At least Williams will be involved  if not Jones and even Mays. Training camp should clarify the pecking order but this unsettled backfield belongs to one of the most powerful offenses. There will be fantrasy value produced.

Houston Texans

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 474 1,931 4.1 10 61 555 6 2,486 16 6 9
2015 424 1,606 3.8 5 85 657 5 2,263 10 16 25
2016 416 1,719 4.1 6 63 375 1 2,094 7 18 29

For the three years that HC Bill O’Brien called plays, the Texans ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in running back carries. The receptions and yardage as a receiver have been below average but this is an offense that is predicated on the run. No other NFL team exceeded 400 carries in each of the last three years and only the Cowboys and Eagles topped 400 carries twice in that time. This is an offense predicated on the run.

Lamar Miller came over last year with high expectations but was limited to 268 carries for 1,073 yards since he missed two games with an ankle injury. It was still a career best for him and the most any single back produced in the three years with O’Brien. Each season produces a secondary back with at least 99 carries. There is no intention on using Miller more and O’Brien wants to “manage” Miller’s workload.

That means that D’Onta Foreman will produce at least minor fantasy value and is the first in line should Miller miss more time. Alfred Blue drops on the depth chart and Foreman is the handcuff for Miller. The rookie should produce at least minor fantasy points each week regardless.

Indianapolis Colts

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 337 1,313 3.9 6 92 770 7 2,083 13 18 18
2015 330 1,167 3.5 6 62 466 4 1,633 10 31 27
2016 334 1,268 3.8 11 84 592 5 1,860 16 25 13

The Colts prefer to throw thanks to Andrew Luck and the backfield hasn’t been above average in many years.  Frank Gore  rushed around 260 times in both years as a Colt but only ran in four scores in 2016. He has also failed to break 3.9 yards per carry in either season.  At 34-years-old, Gore is on his last legs but still has not missed a game  in the last six years.

Robert Turbin only rushed 47 times last year but scored eight touchdowns. The Colts drafted Marlon Mack with their 4.37 pick and he fostered optimism if only because he is behind the oldest starting running back in the NFL. But Turbin has also been talked up in the offseason and already is a reliable option at the goal line. Gore won’t see any more work but will remain the primary rusher. Mack’s involvement is likely overstated since Turbin already has a role as the goal line back.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 298 1,180 4.0 9 76 585 1 1,765 10 30 26
2015 295 1,117 3.8 3 66 490 1 1,607 4 32 32
2016 324 1,230 3.8 5 77 555 2 1,785 7 29 31

The Jaguars have a new head coach in Doug Marrone but kept OC Nathaniel Hackett who took over at mid-season last year. This has been one of the worst backfields in the NFL for many years. In 2015, they netted the coveted 32-32 ranking for yards and scores by a running back. In 2016, it wasn’t much better despite giving up on T.J. Yeldon and bringing in Chris Ivory. A hamstring injury would limit Ivory to only 11 games and he was only marginally effective when he did play.

The Jaguars spent their 1.04 pick on Leonard Fournette as the best back in the draft.  The rookie brings in unquestioned talent and the committee backfield approach will change.  Fournette will be the workhorse back who sends Ivory back to a minor role and Yeldon remains the third down back. The Jaguars worked on their offensive line but major improvements won’t come overnight. Fournette is joining one of the worst offenses of 2016.

Following on the heels of Ezekiel Elliott and taken with the exact same 1.04 pick, the expectations are high for the rookie. But his blockers are still trying to be more than a liability.

Kansas City Chiefs

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 351 1,538 4.4 16 72 573 9 2,111 25 17 1
2015 332 1,473 4.4 15 53 454 2 1,927 17 26 9
2016 327 1,277 3.9 5 70 681 4 1,958 9 22 26

The Jamaal Charles era is over though 2014 was his final year of any consequence. Where it goes from here is still uncertain. Spencer Ware returns as the primary back and he gained 4.3 yards per carry on his 214 runs last year. But he only rushed in three touchdowns. Charcandrick West saw success in 2015 but remained only the minor part of the backfield rotation. 2016 was OC Brad Childress first year so more of the same should be expected.

The change that could happen is with the 3.22 pick of Kareem Hunt who brings every-down ability. C.J. Spiller was also added though expectations for him remain well below any fantasy relevancy. Hunt impressed in the offseason and his ability as a receiver is likely to get him initial playing time.

Hunt at least has a shot at surprising here though the fantasy hype is likely to get ahead of where Hunt should be drafted. He has the most upside but Ware was already getting 80% of the touches last year. Hunt will have a far bigger impact on West.

Los Angeles Chargers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 358 1,251 3.5 6 83 624 1 1,875 7 24 29
2015 372 1,314 3.5 4 134 1147 6 2,461 10 6 22
2016 379 1,479 3.9 10 74 693 3 2,172 13 15 18

The Chargers hope to avoid the same disaster that befell the Rams when they moved to Los Angeles in 2016.  OC Ken Whisenhunt stayed to maintain consistency. The Chargers enjoyed their best rushing season in years thanks to Melvin Gordon making a leap forward in his second season. Gordon ended with 997 yards on 254 carries over 13 games played. He missed the final three games with hip and knee issues.

The Chargers were without Danny Woodhead last year which allowed Gordon to take a bigger role. Woodhead left for Baltimore and there are no challengers for Gordon who was taking up to 90% of all running back touches in games. The biggest concern this year is the move and how that affects the offense. There will be no  home field advantage.

Los Angeles Rams

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 328 1,334 4.1 8 82 670 2 2,004 10 22 24
2015 347 1,473 4.2 11 66 524 0 1,997 11 23 21
2016 317 1,025 3.2 6 63 468 0 1,493 6 32 32

The move to Los Angeles in 2016 saw the Rams succumb to an offensive meltdown. After an encouraging rookie season of 1,106 yards and ten scores, Todd Gurley never managed to break 100 rushing yards in any game. His 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie dropped to only 3.2 yards and Gurley was a bust. The offense crumbled with little passing threat and an offensive line that was outmatched every week.

The Rams hired HC Sean McVay who will call the plays after his success running the Redskins offense. Gurley is bound to improve though the passing effort may once again be more liability than help. Gurley should return to his rookie form though the offense will feature a third down back like Chris Thompson was in Washington last year. That goes to Lance Dunbar from the Cowboys. He’s no better than a deep flyer in a reception points league.

Gurley should rebound from a severe sophomore slump. His future remains bright but the Rams are rebuilding and installing a  different scheme. He won’t fill his potential until the offense is installed, the blocking is fixed and the quarterback situation improves.

Miami Dolphins

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 333 1,549 4.7 11 74 610 2 2,159 13 14 17
2015 290 1,240 4.3 9 81 701 3 1,941 12 25 18
2016 359 1,643 4.6 13 66 530 3 2,173 16 14 11

The Dolphins enjoyed one of the best years from their backfield in the last decade. Jay Ajayi was little used as a rookie but then blew up in Week 6  when he turned in what would be his first of three 200-yard games. The Buffalo Bills were kind enough to give up 420 yards and three touchdowns to Ajayi over their two match-ups. He was far less prolific in other games but turned into their workhorse who gets a full 16 games this year.

Ajayi yields only minor carries to Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. He’s one of the few backs in the league that will garner 80% of the running back touches in games.

Minnesota Vikings

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 331 1,328 4.0 9 82 527 1 1,855 10 25 25
2015 414 1,878 4.5 15 76 622 2 2,500 17 5 7
2016 342 1,078 3.2 8 82 569 2 1,647 10 31 24

The Vikings backfield took a nosedive in 2016 when Adrian Peterson was lost for the year and OC Norv Turner walked out in Week 8. The results were predictably anemic and the offensive line did them no favors. Pat Shumur took over as offensive coordinator and remains. But Peterson is gone and this will be a new offense since everything imploded at the start of last year.

The Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook with their 2.09 pick and also picked up Latavius Murray as a free agent. Matt Asiata is gone and Jerick McKinnon hangs on with no expectations of starting. Murray is still recuperating from ankle surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season.

That all draws a line to Cook. Shumur ran the Eagles offense back when LeSean McCoy was starting out and Cook is his McCoy. The Vikings have a much better schedule and start the year without a sudden need for a starting quarterback or running back. The offense line was addressed and Cook has a far better outlook than McKinnon did last year.

New England Patriots

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 379 1,556 4.1 13 74 566 3 2,122 16 16 12
2015 335 1,301 3.9 11 103 1,043 9 2,344 20 8 1
2016 410 1,638 4.0 18 90 718 5 2,356 23 8 5

The only consistent part of the Patriots backfield has been LeGarrette Blount so naturally he left. The Patriots usually end up with top ten stats from their backfields and even scored 20+ touchdowns in each of the last two years. But 2017 is shaping up to be another coin-flip headache with Dion Lewis and James White as the  pass-catching backs. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead will vie for rushing work though Gillislee is expected to be the primary back – whatever that ends up meaning.

Brandon Bolden is still on the roster. Blount rushed for 1,161 yards on 299 carries and scored 18 times in 2016. But he never had more than 165 runs in his other two seasons in New England and did not score more than seven times. Gillislee is the new Blount, but that doesn’t mean he steps into such a huge role. This is a committee backfield and there are plenty of backs to use.

Expect Gillislee and possibly White to be drafted in larger leagues. But it is a safe assumption that along the way other backs will show up in the box scores.

New Orleans Saints

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 369 1,608 4.4 14 132 939 4 2,547 18 4 3
2015 364 1,459 4.0 15 127 1,064 3 2,523 18 4 4
2016 371 1,679 4.5 14 127 884 10 2,563 24 4 3

The Saints have been top five in running back yards and scores for several years though much of that stems from their heavy usage of backs as receivers. This season will be a big change from 2016 since  the Saints picked up Adrian Peterson to pair with Mark Ingram. Tim Hightower is also gone.

Peterson never caught more than 43 passes in any season and usually ends up with fewer than 30 – about one or two per game as a Viking. He comes off his second knee surgery and at 32 years-of-age may have hit the wall. Or he may still be as prolific as he was the last time he came off a torn ACL. The Saints end up around 375 carries per year under OC Pete Carmichael. At the least, Peterson’s 300-carry seasons are over.

Both Ingram and Peterson will have a role. Ingram is speculated to increase his reception count since Hightower’s departure leaves a hole. But just to throw even more uncertainty into the equation, the Saints traded up to grab Alvin Kamara with the 3.03 pick in the draft. He is likely to see third down work as well depending on how quickly he adapts to pass protection.

This is a prolific offense and always generates significant fantasy stats from their backfield. Now they have a Hall of Famer lining up behind Drew Brees along with Ingram who gained 1,043 yards with his career best 5.1 yards per carry average last year. If either Ingram or Peterson are injured, then the other should be a fantasy goldmine. Peterson’s status in training camp will be key.

New York Giants

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 426 1,542 3.6 12 62 469 0 2,011 12 21 19
2015 380 1,533 4.0 5 92 829 5 2,362 10 7 23
2016 373 1,381 3.7 6 83 622 1 2,003 7 20 30

The Giants moved on from HC Tom Coughlin in 2016 but the new head coach Ben McAdoo was the old offensive coordinator, Nothing changed other than the backfield getting even more unproductive. Rashad Jennings is gone and second-year Paul Perkins steps into the primary back role. Perkins only gained 456 yards on 112 carries as a rookie and still has yet to score an NFL touchdown. Perkins stepped up late last year to secure the job though he has minimal work as a receiver.

Shane Vereen was injured most of last year but had 59 receptions for 495 yards and four scores in 2015. He’ll re-assume the third down role. But this offense is a committee backfield and the primary back rarely has more than 60% of the touches. The Giants also added Wayne Gallman in the fourth round and picked up Shaun Draughn as a free agent.

Perkins should be the lead dog here but even Jennings never had more than 195 carries in his three seasons as the starter in New York.

New York Jets

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 393 1,647 4.2 8 57 431 3 2,078 11 19 20
2015 386 1,564 4.1 9 94 724 3 2,288 12 13 15
2016 373 1,590 4.3 10 91 678 3 2,268 13 11 17

This backfield is harder to project this year. John Morton goes from being the Saints WR coach to running the Jets offense during HC Todd Bowles second season. The players remain largely the same but Matt Forte’s first year as a Jet only produced a 3.7 yards per carry average on his 218 runs. That was the lowest of his career and at 32 years-old, he is expected to decline again this year.

That puts Bilal Powell into the driver’s seat and the head coach said as much. Powell  spent all six years with the Jets and never had more than 176 runs in any season. Powell ended 2016 on a high note with a few impressive games that helped him secure the promotion this year.

Morton already said this will be a committee and both players will have roles. That should serve to water down what either could do. Powell may get more touches, but he’s never been used heavily.  An unsettled quarterback situation could also impact what the rushing offense is asked to do.

Oakland Raiders

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 303 1,139 3.8 4 106 709 3 1,848 7 26 30
2015 333 1,325 4.0 7 96 766 5 2,091 12 21 16
2016 383 1,785 4.7 17 95 843 3 2,628 20 2 6

The Raiders rolled up a very nice season with a remarkable 2,682 total yards from their running backs. But they used Latavius Murray (195 carries), Jalen Richard (83 carries) and DeAndre Washington (87 carries) to split up the load. Murray was the most productive and scored 12 times but is now a Viking.

Marshawn Lynch un-retired after spending 2016 on the sidelines. But even in 2015, he was limited to only 111 carries over seven games because of injury. His last productive year was 2014 and he is now 31-years-old. He arrives in Oakland where one of the better offensive lines will help.

Visions of pre-2015 Lynch are overly-optimistic. The offense loves to mix in Richard and Washington.  Even when Murray was running well, he only averaged around 58% of the running back touches per game. Lynch will be the goal line back and early down runner but this will remain a committee. Richard saw increased usage as a receiver at the end of last year as well.

Philadelphia Eagles

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 418 1,820 4.4 15 71 558 0 2,378 15 8 14
2015 411 1,682 4.1 15 128 878 3 2,560 18 3 3
2016 381 1,632 4.3 14 80 654 3 2,286 17 10 9

Frank Reich’s second season as the offensive coordinator looks more confusing than 2016. The Eagles used five different running backs to various measures last year though none had more than the 155 carries of Ryan Mathews.  Wendell Smallwood (77 carries) and Darren Sproles (94 carries) were  involved as well.

This year Mathews is phased out and LeGarrette Blount was acquired. The Eagles also drafted Donnel Pumphrey with their 4.26 pick. Sproles is 34 years old but still had 52 catches last year. He has already said this would be his final season. Blount should be the new Mathews but even the primary back in games last year rarely had more than 50% of the touches. Sproles and Blount are the main fantasy contributors but Smallwood and Pumphrey will have a role.

The Eagles should improve with Carson Wentz have a full season behind him. That should benefit the backfield but this will continue to be a committee.  Blount should absorb most of the rushing touchdowns and Sproles holds value with reception points.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 376 1,683 4.5 10 102 954 3 2,637 13 2 16
2015 339 1,534 4.5 15 68 535 0 2,069 15 22 11
2016 375 1,676 4.5 11 98 772 4 2,448 15 7 14

Le’Veon Bell enters his  fifth NFL season as the unquestioned workhorse for the Steelers. He not only gets around 90% of the running back touches in most games, he had three games when no other back touched the ball. With over 75 receptions when he plays a full year, Bell is as low-risk and high reward as any back.

DeAngelo Williams is gone and Bell will be backed-up by Fitzgerald Toussaint and the  third round rookie James Conner.  It is too early to expect Conner to be the automatic back-up though in time he should secure the No. 2 spot.

San Francisco 49ers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 353 1,467 4.2 8 44 379 3 1,846 11 27 22
2015 311 1,091 3.5 5 87 679 0 1,770 5 30 31
2016 349 1,378 3.9 11 67 566 6 1,944 17 23 10

This is another situation that is hard to predict. The 49ers coaching staff is new and HC Kyle Shanahan will call the plays having last built the Falcons offense into an NFC champion.  Shanahan employed a committee backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Carlos Hyde remains the primary back  but there is no guarantee that he ends the year as such.  Hyde ended with a 4.6 yard per carry average but missed three games. He has yet to remain healthy during his three-year career.  Hyde not drafted by the current coaching staff and is speculated to be a poor fit for the new offense. He has endured a new offensive coordinator in each year.

The 49ers chose Joe Washington with their 4.15 under the direction of Shanahan and he will become part of the rotation. Shanahan has a history of using two backs so Hyde is likely to see less work but Washington won’t take over as a workhorse even if Hyde misses yet more games.

Seattle Seahawks

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 389 1,793 4.6 13 57 598 7 2,391 20 7 2
2015 383 1,698 4.4 9 58 434 4 2,132 13 20 13
2016 310 1,184 3.8 11 75 625 2 1,809 13 27 19

The  rushing offense took a turn for the worse in 2016 with Marshawn Lynch “retired” and Thomas Rawls out for seven games.  The Seahawks added C.J. Prosise with their third round pick but he only played in six games thanks to a shoulder injury. The offense opted to upgrade this year by taking in ex-Packer Eddie Lacy who missed 11 games last year due to an ankle injury.

All three backs have the potential for a big game. All three are coming off injuries. The Seahawks throw about 55 completions to their backs each year. 2016 ended with 75 as a function of Russell Wilson playing hurt and not running as much. That should revert to the previous level.

OC Darrell Bevell  is in his sixth year directing the offense and he has preferred to rely on one back per game for around 70% of the touches.  But there is no clear primary back here. Lacy gets the first shot at securing a big role but Rawls had six 100-yard games to his credit in the past.  Prosise never played enough last year to allow a comprehensive review of him but he was a third round pick and can catch the ball well.

This could all implode again as it did in 2016 with injuries taking their toll. But one of them will become the primary back. Lacy seems the leader but the race is only starting.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 317 1,180 3.7 4 67 567 1 1,747 5 31 32
2015 401 1,949 4.9 6 89 861 5 2,810 11 1 19
2016 393 1,419 3.6 7 66 549 1 1,968 8 21 28

2015 was a magic year for the Buccaneers backfield that produced the most total yardage in the NFL. But it all fell back apart last season when Doug Martin plummeted from 4.9 yards per carry down to only 2.9 yards.  He only played in eight games due to a hamstring strain and was benched at the end of the year as a disciplinary move. Martin is suspended for the first three games but went through rehab and is back to form by all reports. There’s no middle ground with Martin. He finished with fewer than 500 rushing yards in three seasons and yet twice gained over 1,400 rushing yards.

Jeremy McNichols was added in the fifth round and could end up with playing time, especially in those initial three games. Charles Sims missed half of last year with a knee injury but returns to supply the third down role. Martin looks great by all accounts  but misses three games. McNichols is the insurance pick just in case Martin has yet another melt-down year.

Tennessee Titans

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 304 1,158 3.8 5 74 541 3 1,699 8 32 27
2015 320 1,170 3.7 7 72 615 3 1,785 10 29 26
2016 406 1,795 4.4 14 67 528 3 2,323 17 9 8

The first season of HC Mike Mularkey and OC Terry Robiskie converted the Titans backfield from one of the worst to top ten in both yardage and scores. DeMarco Murray took a vacation in Philadelphia for a year and then turned in 1,287 rushing yards for the Titans and even added 53 receptions. There was a concern that Derrick Henry would dig into Murray’s workload but he still ran 293 times.

Henry was coming off a 395-carry season for Alabama and needed to take it easy as a rookie. He still rushed for 490 yards and five scores for a 4.5 yard per carry average. Henry has been noted as looking faster and fresher in the offseason and even impressed as a receiver. This remains a two man backfield but with over 400 carries to split up, there is enough to make two fantasy starters from the backfield. Henry is slated to see more work but it should not impact Murray too much.

Washington Redskins

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2014 333 1,399 4.2 13 84 847 5 2,246 18 11 5
2015 398 1,519 3.8 4 79 705 3 2,224 7 19 29
2016 343 1,602 4.7 13 70 502 3 2,104 16 17 12

HC Jay Gruden will call plays this year after OC Sean McVay left to lead the Rams. Matt Jones flopped as a starter. He had a knee injury that forced him out at mid-season and he lost the job to the undrafted rookie free agent Robert Kelley. Even he would slow down at the end of the season and battled weight issues.

OC Matt Cavanaugh plans on a committee approach this year.  Samaje Perine was drafted with their 4.07 pick to offer yet another big back like Kelley into the mix. Both Kelley and Perine will see carries and Chris Thompson is the third down back that drained off 49 catches last year. Perine is a popular pick in fantasy drafts and he has plenty of upside. But all three backs will see playing time.

OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Receivers


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