Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs

Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs


Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In the ebb and flow of positional value, running backs were once kings and more recently second-class citizens in a league that turned to the pass as the preferred method of advancing the ball. But hold the phone, maybe we’ve bottomed out and are starting to see an upturn. Just maybe not in the way we were used to seeing.

Running Back Totals by Year

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD Tot Yd Tot TD
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
2017 11,768 47,354 307 3,708 2,755 22,434 105 69,788 412

Running backs saw an uptick in carries in 2017 although the average rush was lower. And rushing touchdowns were down to one of the lowest levels ever. But passing to the position has never been higher. The overall yardage remained relatively the same but the portion of receiving yards to rushing yards increased.

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Top Ten Running Backs Totals

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD FFP
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
2017 2,418 10,431 83 836 633 5,367 28 2,246

Want a top ten back? Look for a guy with good feet AND hands. The rushing yards from the top backs have never been lower and yet the receiving yards have never been higher. The top ten backs averaged 63 catches last season. Alvin Kamara (81), Le’Veon Bell (85) and Christian McCaffrey (80) all totaled at least 80 catches. 14 different backs caught at least 50 passes. Ten years ago, there were only eight with more than 50 catches and none had over 63. Same lower ratio held just five years ago other than Darren Sproles (75) with more than 63.

It is undeniable that running backs figure in more as receivers and there is no reason to expect that to change any time soon. We’ve come full circle – now reception points are needed to make running backs equal to the receivers.

Arizona Cardinals

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 374 1,599 4.3 19 93 970 4 2,569 23 3 4
2017 358 1,205 3.4 6 84 737 0 1,942 6 24 30

The great news is that David Johnson is healed from the wrist injury that robbed him last year. Wrist injuries are easy to come back from, unlike lower body issues. Johnson was the No. 1 fantasy back in 2016 so expectations are high. What complicates this picture is that there is a new offense under ex-Denver OC Mike McCoy. And more importantly, Carson Palmer left and the only remaining starting receiver is 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald. That will likely depress the passing game though Johnson could be even busier as a receiver.

Another concern is that the offensive line projects to be more of a  liability than an asset. Elijah Penny projects as the primary backup.

Atlanta Falcons

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 379 1,757 4.6 19 93 946 6 2,703 25 1 1
2017 395 1,667 4.2 12 72 711 4 2,378 16 7 6

This is the second season for OC Steve Sarkisian so no changes to the scheme. What was the best backfield of 2016 took a step backward after Kyle Shanahan left for the 49ers.  They still ended up top ten by all measures and should improve with the offense fully installed and ready to produce. The Falcons also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Devonta Freeman suffered a sprained PCL and MCL last year but did not require any surgery. He’s returning with no concerns. Tevin Coleman is expected to become a bigger factor as a receiver this year. Coleman turned in 31 and 27 catches over the last two seasons but passing to running backs fell last year with Sarkisian. Even Freeman was limited to 36 receptions despite catching as many as 73 passes back in 2015.

Expect a bounce back from the backfield this year but many expect Coleman to take a bigger role at the expense of Freeman.

Baltimore Ravens

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 327 1,310 4.0 8 118 725 2 2,035 10 19 23
2017 419 1,760 4.2 12 109 678 2 2,438 14 6 11

There is some potential here. Marty Morinwheg enters his third season so the offense is mature. Alex Collins returns as the primary back after taking over in the second half of 2017. He rolled up six scores over the final seven games although his yards-per-carry dipped when he was used more. The Ravens added no new backs though and Javorius Allen was little used once Collins cemented his role. Even Allen’s receptions all but disappeared in the second half of the season.

Kenneth Dixon tore his meniscus and missed last year. He’s back but not expected to be more than depth. Collins has an average offensive line, but his schedule is better than most and above all – the Ravens are willing to ride him like a workhorse.

Buffalo Bills

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 382 1,948 5.1 23 73 553 2 2,501 25 6 2
2017 362 1,424 3.9 7 83 572 2 1,996 9 22 22

The Bills featured an effective backfield in 2016 with LeSean McCoy turning in one of his career-best seasons but the touchdowns did not come in 2017 when the offense as a whole dropped several notches. Now Brian Daboll enters his first year as offensive coordinator and there’s a shaky situation at quarterback with either A.J. McCarron or rookie Josh Allen under center. Relying on the rushing offense makes sense though the offensive line could be worse due to a couple of key personnel changes.

McCoy should receive a heavy workload and Chris Ivory becomes the primary backup after leaving the Jaguars. Ivory is a prudent pick for the McCoy owner. Turning 30 years old this year, McCoy missed five games over the last three seasons due to injury and is often dinged up.

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Carolina Panthers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 346 1,347 3.9 11 44 369 1 1,716 12 30 21
2017 340 1,424 3.6 9 94 752 7 1,980 16 23 6

Norv Turner enters his first year as the offensive coordinator but that should not have any negative impact on the backfield since he’s always preferred strong rushing offenses. Jonathan Stewart is gone after ten seasons and C.J. Anderson signed on as his replacement. The Panthers have long employed a committee backfield while Turner usually prefers workhorse backs.

Christian McCaffery excelled as a receiver last year (80 catches) but only rushed 117 times. Despite Turner’s background, there’s no reason to expect McCaffery to turn into a 300-touch player. Anderson will be more likely to take up the 220-ish carries that Stewart once supplied.

McCaffery remains a strong play in reception-point leagues. But Anderson is the more likely to surprise here in an offense that wants to run.

Chicago Bears

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 353 1,657 4.7 10 55 509 1 2,166 11 16 22
2017 376 1,530 4.1 11 98 726 3 2,256 14 14 11

The Bears refresh their offense after a disastrous 2017 that saw most of the receivers injured before the season started and the rookie Mitchell Trubisky struggled in a bad situation.  The Bears cleaned house with the coaches and brought in HC Matt Nagy who was the offensive coordinator with the Chiefs and OC Mark Helfrich comes over after coaching Oregon. That should see a Chiefs-like scheme but with interesting nuances from what Helfrich did with the Ducks.

Jordan Howard stands to benefit the most. He’s already produced 1,000-yard seasons in his first two years and receives one of the softest schedules in the league. Howard remains the primary back but there is some concern with his role as a receiver. Tarik Cohen has already proven to be a very capable pass-catcher with 53 receptions as a rookie and HC Nagy wants to make use of his diverse skill set.

This will be a better offense and plays a better schedule. 2018 looks bright for both Howard and Cohen.

Cincinnati Bengals

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 393 1,535 3.9 13 79 668 1 2,203 14 13 15
2017 320 1,200 3.8 6 79 714 2 1,914 8 26 26

The Bengals enter their second season with OC Bill Lazor so the scheme is unchanged. And Jeremy Hill was released. Joe Mixon takes over as the clear No. 1 running back though he only ran 178 times for 626 yards and 30 catches for 287 yards. He totaled four touchdowns and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. The Bengals also have one of the lowest rated offensive lines but have added a couple of upgrades that should help.

Mixon could be a heavy-use back and he was good for around three catches in most games. But he was only marginally successful last year and Giovani Bernard will play enough to water down what Mixon alone could have done.  So long as Mixon remains healthy, he’ll get enough volume to merit fantasy attention.

Cleveland Browns

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 279 1,346 4.8 9 102 904 0 2,250 9 12 25
2017 293 1,214 4.1 6 109 923 3 2,137 9 17 22

As usual, the Browns revamped their coaches and players.  Todd Haley comes over as the offensive coordinator after running the Steelers. That should pay dividends to an offense that typically changes coordinators every season. But the quarterback spot is an unknown with either Baker Mayfield or Tyrod Taylor (or both). There are new receivers in this new scheme with new coaches. And while third-down back Duke Johnson remains, Carlos Hyde assumes the primary role in the backfield – no, wait – maybe it is the rookie Nick Chubb. Or both?

There is a concern that Johnson may see fewer receptions and less playing time. And that all three will see enough action to water down what the others do. Worse yet, the roles and workload could change as the season progresses.

Entering into training camp, the fantasy depth chart should be Hyde, Johnson and Chubb. That could change early and maybe often during the season.

Dallas Cowboys

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 426 1,997 4.7 18 58 537 1 2,534 19 5 7
2017 413 1,760 4.3 12 57 542 3 2,302 15 13 10

On the plus side, there is no looming suspension for Ezekiel Elliott who was the No. 2 fantasy running back as a rookie before being held out for six games in 2017. Elliott wants to return with a vengeance and still has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. His biggest limitation is the offense around him since Dak Prescott struggled with the pass last year and that was before losing both Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.

The benefit of the offensive line helps considerably.  Elliott could also be looking at increased usage as a receiver which only makes him even more compelling as a first-round draft pick. Rod Smith takes over as the primary backup that every Elliott owner hopes he never needs.

Denver Broncos

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 368 1,392 3.8 11 61 546 3 1,938 14 24 16
2017 406 1,627 4.0 6 87 699 2 2,326 8 9 26

The Bill Musgrave offense enters year two and he has shown a greater willingness to run the ball. Even the receptions increased and overall, the Broncos backfield reached the top ten in total yards. But C. J. Anderson wore out his welcome and left after reaching his first 1,000-yard season. He recorded nine games with at least 15 carries so the opportunity is there for a full-time back to emerge. Devontae Booker is the veteran but only ran 79 times last year and has never topped 3.8 yards per carry in either season he played.

The Broncos used their 3.07 pick on Royce Freeman out of Oregon as the favorite to assume primary duties. There could be roles for both he and Booker – the Broncos competed 87 passes to the running backs and totaled 406 rushes. That’s more than enough to share and yet still maintain enough fantasy value for both players.

This year has Case Keenum at quarterback and that could have a very positive effect on a team that’s struggled to throw since Peyton Manning left a few years back.  The offensive line is a bit below average and the schedule is not great. But Freeman could carve out a significant role sooner than later.

Detroit Lions

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 301 1,095 3.6 6 89 699 6 1,794 12 28 20
2017 325 1,073 3.3 10 82 634 3 1,707 13 31 16

This offense is mature with OC Jim Bob Cooter entering his third year. And it is Year 20 of “Not Barry Sanders”. Last year started out with some optimism, somehow, that Ameer Abdullah would step up into a significant role. And 165 rushes later, he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry and now is at best the No. 4 running back on the proverbial bubble.

The Lions brought in LeGarrette Blount in the hopes he rekindles the one good year he had in New England and not the seven others in his career. And Kerryon Johnson was the 2.11 pick that hopes to be the primary part of the rushing attack and replicate his success at Auburn. The schedule is better but Blount is going to have at least a short-yardage role. And Theo Riddick hangs around for about 50 catches per year in this scheme anyway.

Johnson holds the most promise, but the committee approach and a lackluster offensive line make it a challenge to rack up touches or fantasy production.

Green Bay Packers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 292 1,263 4.3 6 80 571 3 1,834 9 26 27
2017 314 1,291 4.1 11 68 499 3 1,790 14 28 11

Joe Philbin is back as offensive coordinator but there’s nothing that will change on the offense so long as Aaron Rodgers is playing. And the backfield will remain a committee that typically ranks among the lowest in carries every season. And not only are the rushes limited, but the scheme doesn’t throw much to the running backs.

There hasn’t been a 200-carry back in years. No new backs were added in the offseason so the same set returns. No back carried more than Jamaal William’s 153 runs last year. No back had even 100 runs in 2016. And the role as a receiver is not delegated to just one player. The addition of Jimmy Graham could end up lowering the number of passes to backs as well.

This is the same crew from 2017. Williams takes the primary rushing role – at least to start. Ty Montgomery will figure in as long as he remains healthy. Aaron Jones battled ankle and knee injuries last year but also churned out two 100-yard games when given the chance.

This is a powerful offense but almost entirely because of the passing of Aaron Rodgers. There will be occasions that one back will get a high-volume of carries and turn in a great game. But there are three capable backs in play on a team that likes committees and doesn’t like to run that much anyway.

Houston Texans

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 416 1,719 4.1 6 63 375 1 2,094 7 18 29
2017 391 1,489 3.8 6 61 533 3 2,022 9 20 22

This is mature offense and surprisingly, the Texans did not add a new running back via the draft or free agency. That means Lamar Miller returns despite a career-low 3.7 yards per carry and D’Onta Foreman may not be ready to challenge him by the start of the season due to his torn Achilles tendon from Week 11. But Foreman was already impressive with 4.2 yards per carry and he scored twice in the last game that he played.

The Texans offensive line ranks as one of the worst in the league and the schedule is worst than most. That makes Lamar Miller even less attractive and yet D’Onta Foreman may not get enough work even later to offer much reliable value. Both backs are risky with marginal outlooks. But at least Foreman has long-term potential.

Indianapolis Colts

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 334 1,268 3.8 11 84 592 5 1,860 16 25 13
2017 383 1,391 3.6 7 62 542 2 1,933 9 25 22

When Josh McDaniels left the Colts hanging after he reneged on their head coach offer, Frank Reich stepped in from the Eagles where he was the offensive coordinator.  McDaniels will call the plays and that should mean plenty of run-pass options and committee backfields.

Frank Gore left after three seasons and will be replaced by 4.37 pick from 2017 of Marlon Mack. He was only the fifteenth back selected and averaged just 3.8 yards on his 93 carries. But the Colts offense has been largely in shambles since Andrew Luck went missing.

Mack is nothing special (like the Colts offensive line) but he is the best they have. Jordan Wilkins was drafted with their 5.32 pick but he’s just sorely needed depth until he shows something.  Nyheim Hines was their 4.04 pick and he ran a combine-fastest 4.38 40-yard dash. But he is only 5-8 and 198 pounds and projects to be more of a third-down back. He caught 89 passes in his three years at North Carolina and his speed could be exciting.

Much of the success for anyone on the Colts will relate to Andrew Luck’s health. Mack has the look of just an average back on a good day. His line and likely workshare will depress his stats.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 324 1,230 3.8 5 77 555 2 1,785 7 29 31
2017 464 1,928 4.2 16 96 785 3 2,713 19 4 4

The Jaguars took notes from the Cowboys 2016 draft and snapped up Leonard Fournette with the 1.04 pick last year. He helped lift them from one of the very worst rushing offenses to one of the best in just one season. He’s a rare workhorse back who missed three games and yet still ran for 1,040 yards on the season. Fournette even blew up for three scores and 129 yards in the playoff win in Pittsburgh.

No reason to expect any changes here – to personnel or production.

Kansas City Chiefs

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 327 1,277 3.9 5 70 681 4 1,958 9 22 26
2017 322 1,504 4.7 11 90 683 5 2,187 16 16 6

Andy Reid enters his sixth season with the Chiefs and once again, he used what seemed to be an average running back and made him into an elite player.  Kareem Hunt was their 3.22 pick last year but he outperformed all but Alvin Kamara of the five rookies selected before him. Hunt opened the season on fire for five games and then cooled for almost two months before once again scorching defenses and ending with a score in each of his final five games.

No changes here. Hunt just becomes the new Jamaal Charles.

Los Angeles Chargers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 379 1,479 3.9 10 74 693 3 2,172 13 15 18
2017 381 1,497 3.9 10 93 816 7 2,313 17 10 5

This is not only a mature offense entering its third year with  OC Ken Whisenhunt, but the results in both previous seasons were nearly identical. Melvin Gordon comes off his first 1,000-yard season and improved more as a receiver. It was also his first 16 game season. Gordon is flirting with 300 carries per year and he’s up to 58 receptions in 2017. That will rise with the loss of Hunter Henry for the season.

Austin Eckler is slated to be the complementary relief back. But Gordon has an even better schedule this year and already is good for at least 20 touches per game. No changes here and likely a slight improvement because of the schedule and just one more year together.

Los Angeles Rams

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 317 1,025 3.2 6 63 468 0 1,493 6 32 32
2017 413 1,873 4.5 16 87 889 6 2,762 22 2 3

What a difference new head coach Steve McVay made for the backfield. After slumping terribly during Jeff Fisher’s final season and ending dead last in the NFL for both total yards and scores from the backfield, Todd Gurley reasserted himself as a premier running back. He totaled 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.

Malcolm Brown is the primary backup but Gurley’s not going to share enough for anyone else to matter.

Miami Dolphins

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 359 1,643 4.6 13 66 530 3 2,173 16 14 11
2017 395 1,728 4.4 4 80 582 3 2,310 7 11 29

Dowell Loggains is the new offensive coordinator though HC Adam Gase remains in control so the scheme is not going to change.  Frank Gore figures in now though not as the primary back. Jay Ajayi was sent packing to Philadelphia in the middle of last season and Kenyan Drake won the starting job after an impressive showing during the final five weeks of the 2017 season. Drake only ran 133 times last year but averaged 4.8 yards per carry and figured in heavily as a receiver. Drake caught 32 passes and ended with at least three receptions in almost every game as a starter.

Gore is not just a bench player and will take over for Damien Williams as the complementary back at the least. He could supplant Drake as the primary though at 35 years of age and in decline, that is less likely. The bigger fear is that he gets enough work to water down what Drake could have done and that is very possible. Drake needs to play well to keep Gore from becoming anything more than a complementary player and veteran presence.

The schedule is much better this year and Ryan Tannehill is back after missing 2017. That will boost the passing success and allow Drake more running room although the Fins offensive line is one of the worst.  Gore may limit what Drake does. The offensive line will also be a limitation.

Minnesota Vikings

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 342 1,078 3.2 8 82 569 2 1,647 10 31 24
2017 447 1,779 4.0 14 84 682 2 2,461 16 5 6

The Vikings hardly need a do-over from a 2017 season that saw them reach the NFC Championship. They ended with a Top-5 backfield despite relying on their secondary backs after Dalvin Cook was lost for the season in Week 4. Jerrick McKinnon, somehow, parlayed that into a huge payday with the 49ers but Latavius Murray remains as the backup after rushing for 842 yards and eight touchdowns last year.

Cook was the third overall running back selected in 2017 and already averaged 4.8 yards per carry over his four games. The Vikings lost OC Pat Shurmur and brought in OC John DeFilippo from the Eagles where he was the quarterback coach. Also missing are all three quarterbacks from 2017. Kirk Cousins comes in as the pricey free agent savior. So there are changes here – assumedly all positive. The new scheme should continue to throw to running backs as much and will rely on Cook to be the workhorse back.

Murray is left undrafted in most fantasy leagues and most often taken as a prudent handcuff for the Cook owner. But he’s worth taking should anything happen to Cook again.

New England Patriots

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 410 1,638 4.0 18 90 718 5 2,356 23 8 5
2017 404 1,781 4.4 16 126 957 9 2,738 25 3 2

The Patriots turn in top marks from their backfield but the names are always changing and no single player is assured of a major role. And if they do, they never repeat it. Recent seasons saw Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray have a good year. LeGarrette Blount had a monster season in 2016 during his third year with the Patriots and then left. Dion Lewis finally had a big year in 2017 and then left. Every year it is someone different.


The Pats drafted Sony Michel with their 1.31 pick as the third back taken. Bill Belichick has been the Patriots head coach since 2000 and he used a first-round pick on a back only once – Laurence Maroney (1.21 – 2006). He’s only drafted 11 running backs in his 18 years. It is encouraging that he would spend his first round pick on Michel.

Michel mixes in with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James White and Jeremy Hill. Recent years have seen more reliance on a single back and Michel brings a higher pedigree than any other back during the Belichick reign.  History says whatever you expect, won’t happen. But Michel brings in the best potential of any player in the backfield.

New Orleans Saints

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 371 1,679 4.5 14 127 884 10 2,563 24 4 3
2017 523 2,459 4.7 23 152 1,320 6 3,779 29 1 1

Say hello to the Rookie of the Year. Mark Ingram already had this backfield ranking in the Top 5 with little more than Tim Hightower to help in 2016. Along comes Alvin Kamara and suddenly Drew Brees no longer passes that much. He doesn’t have any need.

The Saints changed their playcalling significantly last year. They ran the ball an astounding 523 times. Both backs totaled over 1,500 yards. Adrian Peterson may be a future Hall-of-Famer, but he was rendered useless and was traded away.

The Saints schedule is tougher this season. And Ingram will miss the first four games due to a PED suspension. But there’s everything to love about this backfield that produced two Top-6 running backs last year.

New York Giants

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 373 1,381 3.7 6 83 622 1 2,003 7 20 30
2017 368 1,481 4.0 5 105 608 1 2,089 6 19 30

It may be hard to wrap your head around the fact that the Giants are changing. Tom Coughlin led the Giants since 2004 and his offensive coordinator replaced him as head coach for the last two years.  With the addition of Pat Shurmur as head coach and Mike Shula as offensive coordinator, the play calling and the scheme will actually change for the first time in 14 years.

But wait! There’s more! After churning through a crowd of mediocre backs in committee backfields, the Giants spent their 1.02 pick on Saquon Barkley. There hasn’t been a 1,000-yard rusher for the Giants since 2012. Now they own a workhorse who has been widely deemed a “generational back.’

Jonathan Stewart was also added so that he could spend his twilight season(s) bringing a veteran presence to the locker room and offering a relief role. The last three backs drafted as highly have all been hits – Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Leonard Fournette. And Barkley enters with even higher expectations.

New York Jets

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 373 1,590 4.3 10 91 678 3 2,268 13 11 17
2017 372 1,472 4.0 8 86 709 2 2,181 10 17 21

Jeremy Bates is the fourth new offensive coordinator over the last five years but he’s just promoted up from being the quarterback coach. The Jets have relied on a committee backfield and last year that meant no one rushed more than 178 times. The scheme is not going to change and the Jets still have one of the worse offensive lines. But at least they are throwing a new cast of players into the game.

Matt Forte is gone. Bilal Powell comes off a career-best year but that only meant 942 total yards and five scores. He also turns 30 years old and has never handled a heavy load in his seven-year career. Isaiah Crowell comes over after four seasons with the Browns where he had moderate success. He’ll fill in as the primary back but Powell also stays involved.

Thomas Rawls also joins the team for depth and Elijah McGuire also sees occasional use. For 2018, Crowell should take the primary job and Powell reverts more to a third-down back. But the schedule is worse this year and the offensive line is no better.

Oakland Raiders

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 383 1,785 4.7 17 95 843 3 2,628 20 2 6
2017 329 1,362 4.1 11 87 637 2 1,999 13 21 16

This will be interesting if nothing else. Jon Gruden was given a king’s ransom to return to coaching after sitting out for ten years while announcing on Monday Night Football. For some perspective, his last starting running back was Warrick Dunn who also has been out of football for a decade. Greg Olson is the offensive coordinator and together they will run a West Coast offense that is comfortable with a backfield committee if no back takes a clear lead.

Marshawn Lynch returned to the NFL in 2017 and ended with 891 yards and seven scores with the Raiders. He’s turned 32 years old but still managed a 4.3 yard-per-carry average on his 207 carries. The Raiders doled out 329 carries in total with both Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington taking around 55 runs each. That should change for 2018 with Doug Martin after he used up all of his chances in Tampa Bay.

The three backs from last year return with Martin wedged in as well.  Lynch is not likely to take any heavier of a workload but at least Martin has a shot at nudging both Richard and Washington from the game plan. Barring any very surprising production from Martin, this will be a committee with Lynch still the short-yardage runner and goal-line back and Martin trying to get enough work to merit any fantasy attention.

Philadelphia Eagles

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 381 1,632 4.3 14 80 654 3 2,286 17 10 9
2017 395 1,787 4.2 9 53 496 4 2,283 13 14 11

Doug Pederson’s offense just won the Super Bowl and they used six running backs to get there. Like so many other ex-Patriots, LeGarrette Blount turned back into a pumpkin after leaving New England. Jay Ajayi was acquired at mid-season and rushed around a dozen times per week and yet scored only once for the Eagles. He added a minimal role as a receiver.

Undrafted Corey Clement was given 74 carries and averaged 4.3 yards per carry and should get more involved with Blount gone. Darren Sproles comes off a torn ACL and turns 35 years old but will be involved as a receiving back. Donnell Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, and Matt Jones will fight for the fourth spot on the depth chart and the losers may be released.

This is a committee backfield and other than Ajayi, there isn’t much clarity or promise that any other back will offer significant and reliable fantasy production. Ajayi is capable of being a workhorse as shown with his 261-1272-8 stat line in Miami during 2016.  He has a great offensive line as well – he just has to earn that heavy workload with other capable backs waiting in the wings.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 375 1,676 4.5 11 98 772 4 2,448 15 7 14
2017 393 1,576 4.0 11 89 670 3 2,246 14 15 12

This could be a slightly different year.  After five years of Le’Veon Bell and OC Todd Haley together, the offense changes, at least potentially, with Randy Fichtner being promoted from the quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. There’s no concern that Bell is getting less work unless it stems from a holdout which is considered unlikely. Even if it takes until Week 1 to be resolved.

James Conner is a prudent handcuff and showed promise last year when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his 32 rushes. Conner ended 2017 on injured reserve due to an MCL injury but is 100% healthy again.

San Francisco 49ers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 349 1,378 3.9 11 67 566 6 1,944 17 23 10
2017 358 1,464 4.1 10 113 845 2 2,309 12 12 18

The Kyle Shanahan offense appeared to be taking form at the end of last year when Jimmy Garoppolo started. The rushing was more effective and 2018 promises to be another year of improving production. Carlos Hyde was released and surprisingly, the 49ers coughed up  $30 million over four years to have what Shanahan termed “another Devonta Freeman.”

It was surprising that McKinnon is now the fourth-highest paid running back but has never rushed for more than 570 yards in a season. He hasn’t even totaled 1,000 yards yet or scored more than five times. But Shanahan was sold on him being a three-down back and the offense certainly paid huge dividends in Atlanta.

McKinnon has a tremendous opportunity to be a workhorse back in a productive offense. It’s hard to see how he earned it but no matter – McKinnon will be the man and Matt Brieda will offer relief. Last year’s early sleeper Joe Williams faded in training camp and then was lost for the year with an ankle injury. He’s no lock to make the final roster.

Seattle Seahawks

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 310 1,184 3.8 11 75 625 2 1,809 13 27 19
2017 301 994 3.3 1 79 749 3 1,743 4 30 32

There is both promise and concern in the backfield. The offensive scheme changes with OC Brian Schottenheimer taking over for Darrell Bevell. That’s the end of a seven-year era that stretches back to two years before the Super Bowl win. Schottenheimer has preferred a power rushing game in his previous stints and that will be made challenging with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL that didn’t do that much to improve in the offseason.

Last season was not only the worst for the franchise in rushing production, it only scored once via the run. All totaled, the backfield only produced four touchdowns so an improvement would be hard not to accomplish.

The Seahawks released Thomas Rawls who never delivered after his rookie season because of continual injuries. But they drafted Rashaad Penny with their 1.27 pick as the second back taken in the NFL draft. The only other back on the roster with any potential is Chris Carson who was lost in Week 4 due to a broken leg and high ankle sprain. And he’s been impressive during OTA’s.

Penny will be the primary back and Carson just the back-up. This is a new scheme too that will want to rely on the backfield as much as it can. The offensive line will still be the biggest limitation but Penny has a shot at a solid rookie season. Unfortunately, the schedule is one of the worst in the league.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 393 1,419 3.6 7 66 549 1 1,968 8 21 28
2017 331 1,168 3.5 7 69 521 1 1,689 8 32 26

OC Dirk Koetter’s offense enters the third year with not much to show from the backfield so far. The Doug Martin Experience was finally abandoned and Koetter never had a primary back with any success. Martin’s issues were as much personal as football related. Peyton Barber was undrafted and used little until the end of last season when he turned in a few games of note.

But the Buccaneers opted to use their 2.06 pick to select Ronald Jones from USC. Jones is certainly more pedigreed than Barber though in fairness, so was Martin. This offense wants to have a 20-carry back. Martin could not provide that last year and is gone. Barber impressed late last year but not enough to keep the Bucs from getting Jones.

What is expected is that both backs will share the backfield to start the year. Charles Sims will get time as the third-down back. Barber has said he is committed to being the primary back. Jones will also get every chance to grab that role. Jones is the better bet but may take time to nail it down and send Barber back to relief status.  The Bucs have an average offensive line and a worse schedule this year. But there is at least the potential that an elite back could emerge. And that is almost certain to be Jones if it happens.

Tennessee Titans

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 406 1,795 4.4 14 67 528 3 2,323 17 9 8
2017 366 1,428 3.9 12 50 402 2 1,830 14 27 11

Yet another new offensive scheme with a coaching change. OC Matt LaFleur was last the Rams offensive coordinator though  HC Sean McVay called the plays. He was McVay’s quarterback coach at Atlanta. Coming from that coaching tree, a committee backfield would not be a surprise though Todd Gurley certainly destroyed any notion that a committee was needed with the Rams.

DeMarco Murray is gone and the Titans signed ex-Patriot Dion Lewis. Derrick Henry is expected to take over the primary role but the Titans did not sign Lewis to a four-year, $20 million contract with $11.5 million guaranteed to be a back-up or a relief back. Both backs want to be the primary and neither will likely be. LaFleur already said that is would be an even-share committee.

That halves what either back might do but there’s one reality that could show up.  Henry was the driving force behind Alabama’s 2016 National Championship season and has a career 4.4-yard average. He’s a workhorse having carried 395 times in 2015 alone. Lewis never had more than 64 carries in his first six NFL seasons and his lone success was last year when he ran for 896 yards on 180 carries for the Patriots. He’s cashed in on his one big year and lands on his fourth NFL team.

Lewis will get every chance to reprise what he did during his third season in New England. But it would follow history (LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Bern-Jarvus Green-Ellis, etc.) for Patriot backs to have just one big year and never again on any other team.

Washington Redskins

Rushing Receiving Total Rank
Year Runs Yards YPC TDs Comp Yards TDs Yards TDs Yards TDs
2016 343 1,602 4.7 13 70 502 3 2,104 16 17 12
2017 342 1,245 3.6 6 86 885 6 2,130 12 18 18

There’s an opportunity here for the rookie Derrius Guice.

All the same running backs return from 2017 including Chris Thompson who broke his leg in Week 10. Thompson supplies the third-down role and has been an effective rusher in limited play. The Redskins spent the last two years proving that a productive primary rusher did not exist on their roster – hence the Guice pick. Matt Jones was released and Samaje Perrine, Rob Kelley, and Keith Marshall have taken turns falling short of expectations.

Guice is expected to be the rusher for first and second downs. He’s also already shown good hands that could buy him even more playing time.  Guice was prolific as a rusher at LSU and ended with a 6.5 yard-per-carry average. He had minimal use as a receiver there and Thompson is expected to retain most of the receiving work.

Guice fell to the 2.27 pick despite being considered top ten overall by some scouts. His attitude and character were red flags to many. But Guice has a shot at erasing any negatives. And the Skins want a reliable, productive rusher.


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