Get ready for your season with theScore’s 2017 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
As the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-first league, the workhorse running back who provides sustaining weekly value becomes rarer.
Thus, it’s essential for fantasy owners to identify and acquire the sort of running back whose value isn’t entirely dependent on workload, but instead on a combination of situation and opportunity (either imminent or potential). Specialists like receiving backs and goal-line backs in prolific offenses, as well as backups with breakout potential, can be valuable fantasy assets.
Below are five rushing attacks from which we recommend drafting at least one player:
2016 rushing attempts: 482 (3rd in NFL)
2016 rushing yards: 1,872 (7th)
Players to target: Mike Gillislee
Watch list: Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis
LeGarrette Blount scored an NFL-best 18 rushing touchdowns for the Patriots’ high-powered offense last season, but he’s no longer with the team, which has opened up a mountain of potential value.
For now, the smart money is on Gillislee earning the Patriots’ traditional power back role and handling the bountiful goal-line opportunities this high-scoring offense creates. Gillislee scored eight touchdowns last season as LeSean McCoy’s backup in Buffalo and averaged a ridiculous 5.71 yards per carry. With an ADP in the same range as Frank Gore and Eddie Lacy, Gillislee is bordering on must-draft territory. Circle him in your draft prep.
But Gillislee isn’t the only running back on this roster with the potential for major fantasy value. Brady loves to throw to his tailbacks and someone will emerge from a crowded group that includes Burkhead, White, and Lewis to take on passing-down work.
Fantasy owners who have a gut feeling about this backfield can take a stab in the late rounds, but perhaps the sharpest play here is to keep Burkhead, White, and Lewis on waiver-wire speed dial and be ready to make a move as soon as one separates from the pack.
2016 rushing attempts: 492 (2nd)
2016 rushing yards: 2,630 (1st)
Players to target: LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams
Watch list: None
No team ran for more yards or scored more rushing touchdowns (29) in 2016 than the Bills.
There’s a new coaching staff, so it’s possible the Bills’ run-first approach will change, but considering the team’s lack of receiving weapons, it’s a safe bet there will be plenty more ground-and-pound ahead.
If you want McCoy this year, it will cost you a first-round pick. That’s a fair price for a player who missed a game last year, played hurt in a few others, and still finished as the third-highest-scoring running back in fantasy football.
Don’t overlook Williams, however. Williams will back up McCoy with little competition from anyone else on the roster and McCoy’s backup last season, Mike Gillislee, scored eight rushing touchdowns in that role.
Williams should have FLEX value as a backup, but would instantly become a high-end RB2 if McCoy misses time. Considering Williams is being drafted outside the top 50 running backs, that makes him one of this year’s most appealing lottery tickets.
2016 rushing attempts: 476 (4th)
2016 rushing yards: 2,187 (3rd)
Players to target: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry
Watch list: None
The Titans have one of the best offensive lines in football and two backs on their roster capable of finishing the season as fantasy football’s top-scoring RB.
The most obvious candidate is Murray, who was a top-five fantasy running back last year, his first in Tennessee. The expected improvement of the Titans’ passing attack should open up even more touchdown opportunities for Murray, who crossed the stripe 12 total times in 2016.
Murray isn’t nearly as injury-prone as his reputation suggests (he’s played at least 14 games each of the past four seasons), but if he were to suffer a major injury, Henry would take over as starter and instantly assume Murray’s RB1 value. Henry is a monster of a man and could even perform so well behind Murray that Titans coaches have no choice but to flip their spots on the depth chart.
There is undeniable risk that Murray and Henry will split carries and hurt each other’s fantasy value, but the potential for each tailback to produce monster stats if he finds himself in a workhorse role is immense.
2016 rushing attempts: 404 (19th)
2016 rushing yards: 1,742 (16th)
Players to target: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson
Watch list: Alvin Kamara
The Saints aren’t thought of as a running team, but Drew Brees’ propensity to throw to his tailbacks gives this backfield intriguing fantasy upside. The question is who to target.
Is it Ingram, who is 27 years old and coming off the best season of his career, an adept receiver, but a player whom the Saints bizarrely seem to have little faith in?
Or is it Peterson, a generational talent nearing the end of his career at age 32 who is a poor receiver, but who generated an endless stream of rave reviews at spring practices?
Or maybe it’s Kamara, a rookie whom the Saints traded next year’s second-round pick to acquire, is projected to play passing downs (of which there are many in this offense), and is essentially free at his ADP?
Perhaps the best move here is to wait and take whoever falls in your draft. The shine on Peterson has led many owners to overlook Ingram, while Peterson is himself being overlooked by owners with recency bias.
We know the Saints will score a lot of points. We have seen this offense supports the fantasy production of multiple running backs in the same season.
Perhaps Ingram, Peterson, and Kamara will coexist and prevent any of the trio from producing more than FLEX or low-end RB2 value, but it’s also possible one will emerge from the pack and ascend to RB1 level. You want that potential on your roster.
2016 rushing attempts: 434 (11th)
2016 rushing yards: 1,922 (6th)
Players to target: Marshawn Lynch
Watch list: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard
The Raiders want to run the ball. They have invested heavily in their offensive line in recent seasons and clearly see pounding the rock as the key to their success.
Now with Lynch in the fold, replacing the disappointing Latavius Murray, the Raiders appear equipped to do it. Lynch is certainly worth selecting in drafts where he falls to the third round, as he carries NFL-best touchdown upside.
But let’s not forget that Lynch 31 years old, spent a year away from football, and was beaten up and ineffective the last time we saw him on the field. It’s likely he’s returning refreshed and ready to dominate, but he’s far from a sure thing.
Savvy owners will keep a close eye on the two players competing for work behind Lynch. Washington was a mid-round pick in 2016 who wasn’t flashy as a rookie but showed promise. Richard is an elusive home run hitter who doesn’t necessarily need a full workload to produce big numbers.
Washington and Richard go undrafted in most leagues. Whether or not you draft Lynch, be sure to add the two young tailbacks to your watch list.
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