Fantasy Football Position Breakdown: Running Backs

Heading into draft season, the most interesting topic of conversation among running backs is certainly Ezekiel Elliott. The majority of fantasy analysts had him as their third best running back and third best overall player heading into the season. However, recent reports have fantasy players scrambling to figure out how they will be handling Elliott in their drafts.

For those of you who have not heard, rumors are swirling that Elliott could end up being suspended by the NFL for violating their personal conduct policy. I won’t get into that here. There are plenty of articles online about this matter.

What if he does get suspended? How much does it drop him in drafts? We are still uncertain about the length of the potential suspension. Most believe that it will not be any longer than two games. If he ends up without a suspension, then it obviously does not change his draft status. However, if he does get a suspension, and it is no longer than two games, Elliott should drop down into the middle-to–late first round.

If we look back to last season, Le’Veon Bell was given a three-game suspension. Bell dropped from a top two or three overall pick into the second round. In some cases, he lasted into the late second round. With a one or two game suspension I think it is reasonable to think that Elliott averages getting drafted anywhere between five and ten overall instead of the top three or four like he would without a suspension.

This season, the top three running backs in everyone’s rankings are David Johnson, Bell, and Elliott. The order changes depending on the analyst, but nearly everyone has these three guys as their top three. You can see my pre-training camp rankings here.

Most people will probably have an issue with me having Bell ranked higher than Johnson. Let me explain my thinking. First, the gap between the two is extremely narrow. Bell has still not reported to Steelers camp due to a contract dispute. He believes that he should be paid like a number one running back and a number two wide receiver. He will be going into a contract year and running backs generally play very well in contract years.

If he wants to be paid like a number one back and a number two receiver after this season, he needs to have a record-breaking year. That is why I currently have him at number one.

However, the longer he holds out, the more I become concerned with his health. As it gets closer to week one, I may consider making Johnson my number one running back if Bell has still not reported to camp.

I’m going to get into some of the guys that I like or dislike based off of their current average draft positions (ADP). Before I do so, I will run through some terms that I will use when describing players.

Boom – A player who will exceed expectations according to their current ADP. Not to be confused with a breakout. Boom players have produced in the past but are most likely being undervalued.

Bust – A player who will fail to live up to expectations, according to ADP.

Breakout – A player who will have a career year this season and exceed expectations. This player has possibly not lived up to expectations so far in their career, and is most likely still early on in their career.

Lets dive into a few players and their outlooks for this season.

Marshawn Lynch (Bust) – Many people are extremely high Lynch this season. I am not one of those people. Some may argue that a full season away from the game was good for Lynch, and that he will come into this season well rested. That may be true, but I see no way how he stayed in shape during his time off.

Lynch’s current ADP on Yahoo is reasonable (38.1). However, he is being drafted entirely too early on ESPN (27). There is no chance that I will even consider drafting him that high in my drafts. Lynch may come out hot during the first few weeks. After several weeks, I will look for him to start wearing down.

Isaiah Crowell (Bust) – This running back is listed as a bust only because of where he is being drafted. His current ADP isn’t terrible on ESPN (47) and Yahoo (37.7) but I have noticed in most of my mock drafts that he is going before that.

I do like Crowell this season. The Browns should have one of the best offensive lines in the league after addressing the need this offseason. Crowell was successful last season behind a subpar offensive line, and it has only improved. I just can’t trust drafting a Browns running back early in my drafts when there are other great players available. If he slides a little bit, I will gladly take a chance on him.

Bilal Powell (Boom) – Powell will not get the credit or recognition he deserves because he plays for the Jets. Yes, they will be one of, if not the worst team in the league this season, but someone in the offense is going to need to do something for them. The team will most likely be playing from behind most of the time, so Powell will get a lot of receptions, making him more valuable in PPR leagues.

Most people probably don’t realize that Powell had 58 receptions last season and totaled over 1,000 offensive yards from scrimmage. For a guy currently being drafted anywhere between the sixth and eleventh rounds, he should turn out to be a major steal and by far outproduce his current draft position.

Like what you’re reading? Check out my positional breakdown for quarterbacks. 

Dalvin Cook (Breakout) – Some people may be concerned with Latavius Murray possibly taking goal line carries away from Cook this season. I am not concerned with that possibility. The Vikings used a second round draft pick on Cook and they are hoping he will turn into their feature back for years to come. My guess is Cook will work two complete series for every one series that Murray works. I don’t anticipate that there will be a designated goal line back.

In college, Cook showed that he has the ability to be a three-down feature back that can catch the ball out of the backfield. I don’t foresee Cook having an Ezekiel Elliott type rookie season, but I think he could have around 1,200 total offensive yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns.

Murray is currently on the PUP list which is helping Cook get more reps with the first team. The longer Murray stays on the PUP list, the stronger I feel about Cook this season. Don’t worry too much about Murray this season. Cook will be a solid fantasy option.

Danny Woodhead (Boom) – I really liked Woodhead before Kenneth Dixon went down for the season. Since then, my love for him has only grown. Woodhead has proven year after year that he is PPR gold. He does have a history of injuries, and this season will be no different. If you take a chance on Woodhead you will be taking a big risk. If Woodhead can stay healthy for the entire season, he will be one of the biggest steals in any position. His current ADP sits at 67 on ESPN and 117.5 on Yahoo.

Now in Baltimore with Joe Flacco as his quarterback, it is not out of the question to think that Woodhead could catch 80 passes this season. That will only be possible if he stays healthy the entire season. With Joe “the check-down king” Flacco throwing him the ball, Woodhead will get plenty of targets. There are over 400 targets available from last season that are no longer on the team, suspended, or injured heading into this season. Woodhead will take a fair amount of those.

Image Credit: Sporting News

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One thought on “Fantasy Football Position Breakdown: Running Backs

  1. Pingback: Fantasy Football Position Breakdowns: Wide Receivers | Charm City Bird Watch

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