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WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: Running Back

The final piece to this four part series may be the most crucial for your hunt of a Fantasy Football Championship. Wide receivers have overtaken running backs as the current rulers of the fantasy kingdom. This may lead you to believe that running backs are not as important as receivers when it comes to making up your roster. Don’t make that mistake! Receivers are a crucial element, but finding a quality running back to count on week-to-week may be the most important thing you do for your fantasy team. I’m here to explain which running backs you should set your sights on for a chance at a championship! Let’s Dive In!

 

Alpha-Male: Todd Gurley

As a rookie in only 13 games, he showed us that he is the real deal. Let me give you a quick math equation: 1,108 yards on 229 carries is 4.8 yards per carry. That is extremely impressive for a young man having to carry an entire offense as a rookie. Imagine what he will be capable of this year having a full 16-game slate in front of him. This offense is going to live through him this season, especially with a rookie quarterback (Goff should/will be the starter Week 1). Even at only age 22, he is the Alpha-Male of the running back group in 2016.

 

Beast: David Johnson

I liked David Johnson coming out of college from small Northern Iowa. I thought he would fit well as a complement to Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, but he blew those thoughts right out of the water. He exploded as a play-maker in the Arizona offense last season and a bigger role should be in store for this season. Bruce Arians is one of the best offensive minds in football and knows what he is working with on offense this season. He has Carson Palmer (age 36) and key contributor Larry Fitzgerald (age 32) who are not getting any younger and need to be fresh for a playoff run. This means a heavier workload for Johnson this season as the youngest member of this offense with tons of potential. Expect big things from this beast this season as a premier fantasy football back.  

 

Workhorse: Lamar Miller

Here is a guy that is not getting enough attention as a possible breakout star in Houston this season. Finally being in an offense where he will be expected to be a workhorse, he could thrive. He has always shown flashes in Miami, but seemed to have had a cap on his touches, as the goal has been to make Tannehill and the passing game the main focus. In Houston, he will be the featured man. He can run well between the tackles, hit the outside lanes, and catch the ball out of the backfield. The thought of watching Lamar Miller be a workhorse this season should have you drooling at the potential of him being a top-3 fantasy back this season.

 

Poisonous: Jamaal Charles

Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. I don’t want you to add this poison to your roster with an early pick. I’m here to warn you about adding this highly-prized back as a downfall is expected this season. Let’s look at the facts: 1) He is coming off another season-ending leg injury. 2) He is older in the sense of running backs with plenty of tread on the tires. 3) Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware just signed extensions this offseason and will be a part of the running back rotation. The facts are right in front of you to make an educated decision for yourself that Jamaal Charles will be poison for your roster this season.

 

Savage: Eddie Lacy

The Packers offense will be back to explosive form this season and part of that will be the rejuvenation of Eddie Lacy. He is thinner and more ready for the physical grind of an NFL season than in previous years. Aaron Rodgers has a chip on his should, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are healthy for the start of the season. Things are in place for Eddie Lacy to be a key component of this offense. Lacy wants to prove himself once again as an elite running back and will become a savage as he returns to elite status.

 

Tamed: Devonta Freeman

After Tevin Coleman was drafted last year by the Falcons, most thought that a two-headed monster of Coleman and Devonta Freeman would spearhead the Falcons’ ground game. Coleman got hurt and Freeman became a production monster to start the season. The issue was after the hot start by the Falcons, the second half of the season saw a big dip in the success of Freeman. He was the “breakout” running back of last season, but should we expect that kind of production again? I say that he will split more carries with Coleman this season and won’t reach 1,000 yards rushing like he did last season. He will still be a better fantasy back than most, just want to warn you to tame your expectations.

 

Old Dogs: Matt Forte, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson

Once you hit age 30 in the NFL as a running back, you are usually out of the league or on the decline. Usually you walk with caution with these older running backs knowing how much tread is on their tires. I’m going to give you a trio of running backs you should look to invest in for at least one more season.

 

Adrian Peterson (age 31) seems to defy the odds over and over again. He has been elite for years, then blew-out a knee, dealt with personal issues, and then comes back and shows he can overcome it all and still be a stud. He walks into this year as part of a playoff contender that will need him pumping on all cylinders. They added Laquon Treadwell, who will be a solid possession receiver for Teddy Bridgewater. Stefon Diggs can now be a big-play No. 2 receiver, a more natural position for him. These two factors will keep defenses more honest and give Peterson more quality opportunities than in the past.

 

Matt Forte is the youngest of this trio at only 30, and may also have the highest potential of these three. He walks into an offense that lacked a dual-threat back that can take that offense to the next level. Chris Ivory was a pounder that didn’t fit the Jets offense and hindered it at times. Forte will bring an element that will keep defenses on their toes with a player in the backfield that can beat them in multiple ways. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker carried that offense last year. They will take advantage of having a versatile veteran back like Forte in the backfield.

 

Frank Gore is the oldest of this trio coming in at age 33 and still going strong. Gore didn’t reach 1,000 yards last season (first time since 2010). He did his best without Andrew Luck at quarterback and a below average offensive line. You put those two things together and that makes for a very inconsistent and weak offense. Andrew Luck is back with a new and improved offensive line. Rob Chudzinski is also calling offensive plays this year and will look to establish a run game to help Luck stay healthy. Chudzinski really likes play-action and will need a run game established to make that happen, which means that Gore should have plenty, and better quality, of opportunities than last year.  

 

Racehorse: Carlos Hyde

Imagine yourself at the racetrack ready to bet on a racehorse. You are looking through the possible options and come across a very intriguing thoroughbred. He is a high risk/high reward type of horse.

Pros: 1) He is healthy entering the season. 2) Chip Kelly brings a fast-paced offense that can be a benefit to running backs. 3) Hyde thrived in that kind of offense at Ohio State.

Cons: 1) He hasn’t proven himself yet. 2) The 49ers roster is weak and will struggle to stay in games, leading to more passing. 3) Defenses do not have much respect for the passing game, which means more defenders in the box

He may have his big games and disappointing games. Are you willing to lay the bet down on his racehorse?

 

Wild Stallion: Melvin Gordon

Disappointing wouldn’t even cover what fantasy owners felt last year after drafting Melvin Gordon. Given the circumstances, you shouldn’t be worried about what he can be capable of for this season. Last year he faced many obstacles: 1) He was just a rookie 2) An injured offensive line most, if not all of the season 3) Did not pass protect well and had fumbling issues. This year he has a healthy offensive line, a year of experience under his belt, and a chip on his shoulder. He is not going to be an elite fantasy back, but he should fall into the RB2 range this season.

 

Young Bucks: Ezekiel Elliott, C.J. Prosise

We all know about Ezekiel Elliott behind that Cowboys offensive line. He can dominate between the tackles, beat you with speed on the outside, and catch the ball. I will honestly leave it at those two sentences. Rookie C.J. Prosise could also have a pretty good year as well. No Marshawn Lynch and a questionable Thomas Rawls means somebody has to be counted on for production out of the backfield. Prosise can be that player, especially with his pass receiving ability. He will line up in the backfield, the slot, or come in motion from the backfield and win matchups against linebackers. I believe he will be the most productive back in Seattle this season with his versatility.

 

Domesticated: Arian Foster

The days are gone of Arian Foster being an elite workhorse back. He hasn’t played a whole season since 2012 and is no longer in his prime. He will be part of a 2-man committee with Jay Ajayi this season and is not expected to carry the attack on his own. He was brought in for his veteran leadership skills and 3rd-down skill set as a blocker and receiver. He is not the Arian Foster of old who could dominate a game. He has been domesticated due to age, injury issues, and tread on the tires.

About Dan Collins

I have always been an avid football enthusiast. The NFL Draft and Fantasy Football is my passion in the realm of football. I write Mock Drafts and inform readers of what is happening during the critical stages of the NFL Draft. I spend way too much time working through Fantasy Football analysis, situations, and thoughts; it is an issue. Follow on Twitter @Dan_R_Collins for Football info and the occasional joke or wisecrack.