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2016 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running backs

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We provide a value-based approach for selecting the ideal fantasy running back.

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In a year in which the three top-ranked fantasy players are wide receivers, a vast constituency of fantasy owners have adopted the "zero running back" strategy, which enables them to hoard receivers and tight ends in the earlier rounds in lieu of running backs. Though this method can be particularly useful in PPR leagues, I was dragged kick and screaming into a fantasy realm that values running backs, and by golly, I'm going to stick to my guns.

ESPN, NFL.com, FOX, CBS, etc. pay "fantasy writers" uncomfortable amounts of money to provide readers with hard-hitting analysis and projections that are essentially conjured from thin air. If you owned Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Robinson last season, you are certainly aware of the fact that he gained 1,400 receiving yards and scored a league-high 14 touchdowns. You can probably guess how many outlets projected that.

Therefore, I refuse to waste your time by listing 50 or 100 names and attempting to justify meaningless projections. I will, however, provide the names of three running backs who I think will outplay their current value, and three who I think have some serious bust potential:

Boom: Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell

Bell would almost certainly be a consensus first or second overall fantasy pick regardless of scoring format had he not been suspended for missing mandatory drug tests. Bell had no fewer than 17 carries in any of the five full games he played in 2015, and he averaged almost 5.0 yards per carry. Had Bell played the entire 2015 season (even with his two-game suspension under consideration), his final stat line would have been in this ballpark:

288 carries for 1,430 yards and 8 touchdowns; 61 receptions for 334 yards

Realistically, Bell's rushing numbers probably would've been a little lower (my bet would be in the 1,100-1,200ish range, which is still insane for a 14-game season), and his receiving yardage would've been substantially higher (at least 500 yards seems reasonable, plus maybe two or three touchdowns). If that happens, Bell is the top PPR back and near the top of standard leagues, as well. I'm not too concerned about his knee (or DeAngelo Williams), so if Bell manages to stick to his career averages of 18 carries per game at a 4.2 yards-per-carry clip this season, he finishes the season with 236 carries for 990 yards and 8 touchdowns. Factor in his receiving figures (which should be amongst the best in the league for running backs), and Bell is still a top-tier option. Pick Bell in the first round and weather the storm for three weeks. It'll pay off later.

Bust: Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls

Rawls was a football-playing machine last season, rushing for over 800 yards and seemingly emerging as the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch. Then, he fractured his ankle, which ended a promising rookie season. Entering his sophomore campaign, Rawls appears to be a trendy option to pick up right where he left off, especially given his past success and Seattle's run-first attitude. Unfortunately, Seattle drafted C.J. Prosise from Notre Dame who, unlike Rawls, actually has the ability to catch the football (Rawls had nine catches in 13 games last season despite playing in the same offense as the lord of the dump-off, Russell Wilson). In addition, Christine Michael, the guy who the "experts" said would be the next Marshawn Lynch like three years ago, actually looks like, well, the next Marshawn Lynch. Rawls, to my knowledge, still has not played in the preseason (though he is practicing, which is a good sign), which means that many people are drafting a dude in the third-round of their respective drafts who hasn't even won the starting job. Hmm..

Boom: Eagles RB Ryan Mathews

Here are some stats:

- Mathews averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season

- Jamaal Charles averaged 15.3 carries and 3.7 receptions in 35 games with Doug Pederson serving as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs

-Pederson is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles (not really a statistic, but still true).

If Mathews stays healthy (which, admittedly, is an enormous "if'), it's not crazy to think that he could get 18 or 20 touches per game. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and they are going to run the ball. A lot. Mathews has top-10 upside.

Bust: Buccaneers RB Doug Martin

I have a few issues with Martin. For one, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season. That is absurd. His career average is 4.2, so I think it's fair to assume that Martin will regress slightly. Additionally, the Buccaneers utilized backup RB Charles Sims extensively in the passing game last season (Sims had 51 receptions, Martin only had 33), so I think Martin's usage is going to be somewhat restricted to first and second down. Finally, Tampa Bay has a bunch of tall, rangy weapons (Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Mike Evans) for QB Jameis Winston to utilize in the red zone. Martin should still be a fine running back this season, but not worth a third-round pick.

Boom: Falcons RB Tevin Coleman

DeVonta Freeman, the best running back in fantasy last season, was pretty terrible down the stretch. Turns out volume breeds relevance. In Weeks 13-17, Freeman averaged 3.1 yards per carry, though he likely salvaged some people's fantasy seasons by scoring touchdowns in Weeks 15 and 16. In other words, I have some serious doubts regarding Freeman's job security. Should Freeman lose the starting gig for any reason, I think Coleman seizes the opportunity and never looks back.

Bust: Any Broncos running back

Eh, what a mess. Denver's entire offense is a dumpster fire at this point. C.J. Anderson appears to be the frontrunner in Denver's running back hierarchy, though rookie Devontae Booker has looked solid throughout training camp and the preseason. Somehow, Ronnie Hillman still gets to wear his name on the back of a professional football jersey, so you must factor him into the mix, as well. Of course, whoever wins the starting job is likely going to be facing almost exclusively eight- or nine-man fronts, as the vast major of Denver's contemporaries will probably take their chances with allowing Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch or your grandmother Dorothy to beat them in the air. Denver's defense should be alright, though.