What’s old is new again. That was the theme at running back this season as workhorses Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard, among others, breathed new life into a position many tended to avoid early on in August drafts … With 2016 in the books, it’s time to gaze into the Magic 8-Ball for what’s to come in the New Year.
ZeroRB was all the rage among fantasy drafters in 2016. With the position reverting to its smashouth roots thanks to guys like David Johnson, Le’Von Bell and DeMarco Murray, OVER/UNDER 6.5 RBs drafted in Round 1 of 12-team exercises come August?
Brandon — OVER. Wide receivers (outside the Big 3 of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones, proved to be a minefield this past season. Meanwhile, those who owned David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon (until his hip injury) and DeMarco Murray were enjoying double digits fantasy points on a weekly basis, with only a few exceptions. Consistency was the calling card of the top RBs in ’16 and, in addition to those five RBs I just mentioned, I’d have Jordan Howard, LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman and Leonard Fournette (depending on where he lands) on my Round 1 RB list.
Dalton — OVER. Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray look like sure things. And then there’s Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount in the discussion before we even get into rookie possibilities. Wide receivers actually have plenty of question marks themselves, and no one is taking a tight end or quarterback in round one. Running backs going early will definitely be a thing in 2017.
Scott — It’s an easy OVER. Too many backs crushed it in 2017, bell-cow studs that fantasy owners are excited to pony up for. It’s not just the first tier, either; the second tier had plenty of hits. Throw in the decline of Rob Gronkowski and a few belly-up wideouts, and I expect at least seven runners, maybe even eight, to go in the first dozen.
The 2016 rookie class lived up to its billing, Elliott most outstandingly so. Due to the Zeke Effect, many NFL GMs, as is typical in a copycat league, are likely aiming to score their chain-mover of the future in May’s Draft. Looking ahead to 2017, which rookie-to-be stirs your blood most? And, please, let’s not all answer Leonard Fournette.
Brad — D’ONTA FOREMAN. Texas’ semi-truck flattened the college football landscape in 2016. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry and rushed for at least 124 yards in every contest. He’s a rare blend of size, speed, power and lateral agility. Unlike LeGarrette Blount, who many people will compare him to, he’s an excellent cutter who’s running skills remind me of Jay Ajayi and DeMarco Murray. He’ll need to get smarter on off-edge runs in a league full of lightning quick linebackers and his receiving skills are suspect at best, but it’s foreseeable he leaves an indelible mark his rookie year. Next to Fournette, Foreman is quite possibly the NFL’s next great workhorse.
Andy — Just for the record, Fournette is the proper answer here. But fine, I’ll look a little further down the draft board. FSU’s DALVIN COOK topped 100 rushing yards in eight of his season’s final nine games, he’s averaged 6.0 YPC for the year, and he’s been great in big moments, in big games (4 TDs vs. Clemson, 3 TDs vs. UNC). He’s a capable receiver, too. Landing spot is everything at this position (though maybe not in Fournette’s case), but Cook has the profile of a full workload NFL runner. I’m plenty interested.
Brandon — CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY. With his speed, elusiveness and run/catch versatility, he’s been compared to Reggie Bush, but I’m guessing he’ll be a more durable version of Bush. If he were to land in, say, New England or Detroit or Denver … well, it’s easy to see him making an immediate fantasy impact. With all these running backs, the situation you land in is most important – just ask Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.
Peering into the crystal ball, palm reader, which running back is set to make the greatest value leap from this year to next? In other words, who could be the next Melvin Gordon?
Dalton — KENNETH DIXON. The Ravens have a solid team, and there’s little in the way here preventing him from taking over as the team’s lead back. He certainly passed the eye test and looks like a possible future star. Go get him.
Andy — KENNETH DIXON feels like the obvious answer here. He surged late in the season for Baltimore, putting himself on the radar for the casual fan with a terrific game on the Monday night stage against New England (81 total yards, 8 catches, TD). If healthy in 2017, it’s easy to imagine Dixon producing a 1200 scrimmage yard season.
Brad — ROB KELLEY. ‘Fat’ – or is it ‘Phat?’ – Rob charged his way onto the scene midseason, racing past butter hands Matt Jones on Washington’s depth chart. His final surface numbers didn’t light the world on fire, but he ranked top-five in tackles avoided per attempt (0.22) and top-15 in yards after contact (2.9). His pounding style, ideal size and improving hands point the arrow north. If he enters training camp as the favorite, he could easily tuck inside the position’s top-15. Keep in mind, Washington’s offensive line finished top-10 in run-blocking this season. (Side note: I’m also head over heels for Dixon)
Conversely, who’s going to be the Todd Gurley of 2017, the consensus RB1 we should all dodge as if he were a one-legged Matt Asiata?
Andy — Hey, let’s go big. DeMARCO MURRAY has had a tremendous comeback season (and he’s been huge for me personally), but Derrick Henry is no slouch himself. There’s no reason Henry should spend a second season in a straight understudy role.
Brandon — LEGARRETTE BLOUNT AND LATAVIUS MURRAY. These two backs will likely finish among the top 10 RBs of 2016, but their lofty finishes are heavily weighted by their TD success, and we should all know that chasing TD-dependent commodities in fantasy is a fool’s errand.
Scott — I wasn’t sure if I was taking low-hanging fruit with LAMAR MILLER, but all of my colleagues have him in the Top 12 next year, so I’ll assume he applies. I’m starting to think maybe Miami was right on Miller all along, that he isn’t ideally suited for a heavy workload. I also don’t trust head coach Bill O’Brien to put his players in a position to consistently succeed. Blount’s a pretty obvious fade, at his age and given his scoring profile. New England will always have a lot of competition for the ball, and surely things can’t fall that ideally again.
Let’s get down to nitty gritty. Please rank your top-17 running backs for 2017, if we were drafting today…
Dalton — 1) Le’Veon Bell 2) David Johnson 3) Ezekiel Elliott 4) LeSean McCoy 5) DeMarco Murray 6) Jay Ajayi 7) Jordan Howard 8) Devonta Freeman 9) Leonard Fournette 10) LeGarrette Blount 11) Melvin Gordon 12) Lamar Miller 13) Carlos Hyde 14) Latavius Murray 15) Todd Gurley 16) Kenneth Dixon 17) Rob Kelley
Brandon —1) Ezekiel Elliott 2) David Johnson, 3) Le’Veon Bell, 4) Melvin Gordon, 5) Jordan Howard, 6) LeSean McCoy, 7) DeMarco Murray, 8) Leonard Fournette, 9) DeVonta Freeman, 10) Carlos Hyde, 11) Lamar Miller, 12) Todd Gurley, 13) Adrian Peterson, 14) Jay Ajayi, 15) Latavius Murray, 16) Mark Ingram 17) Kenneth Dixon
Scott — 1) David Johnson, 2) Le’Veon Bell, 3) Ezekiel Elliott, 4) LeSean McCoy, 5) Devonta Freeman, 6) DeMarco Murray, 7) Jordan Howard, 8) Melvin Gordon, 9) Jay Ajayi, 10) Leonard Fournette,
11) Mark Ingram, 12) Carlos Hyde, 13) Rob Kelley, 14) Eddie Lacy, 15) Latavius Murray, 16) Todd Gurley, 17) Kenneth Dixon
Andy — 1) David Johnson, 2) Le’Veon Bell, 3) Zeke Elliott, 4) Leonard Fournette, 5) Melvin Gordon, 6) Jordan Howard, 7) Jay Ajayi, 8) LeSean McCoy, 9) DeMarco Murray, 10) Lamar Miller, 11) Carlos Hyde, 12) Todd Gurley, 13) Latavius Murray, 14) Adrian Peterson, 15) Dalvin Cook, 16) Devonta Freeman, 17) LeGarrette Blount.
Brad — 1) David Johnson, 2) Le’Veon Bell, 3) Zeke Elliott, 4) Jordan Howard, 5) DeMarco Murray, 6) LeSean McCoy, 7) Melvin Gordon, 8) Jay Ajayi, 9) Leonard Fournette, 10) Carlos Hyde, 11) Devonta Freeman, 12) Lamar Miller, 13) Latavius Murray, 14) Kenneth Dixon, 15) D’Onta Foreman, 16) Todd Gurley, 17) Rob Kelley