Many NFL analysts will tell you that the running back position is a dying breed. This is due to recent rule changes where quarterbacks are seemingly untouchable and receivers seem to draw flags if defensive backs breathe too heavily on them. However, this is not a flawed ideology, especially when it comes to fantasy. The running back is still an integral piece within fantasy line-ups, despite the NFL becoming an increasingly pass-happy league. Don’t forget though, the modern-day half back needs to be able to catch screens and wheel routes out the backfield, something which will rack up yardage and most importantly points for fantasy teams.
It’s no secret that there is 3 top RB’s that are likely to come off the draft boards first, second and third in your draft. I do try not to state the obvious with my “love” pick, but nothing is more certain than David Johnson, Le’veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliot leading the fantasy RB leader boards at the end of the season, barring injury of course. They really are in a tier of their own. Although Easy E thoroughly impressed the whole footballing world in his rookie season racking up 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, he wasn’t very active in the passing game only producing 363 yards with a single TD. For this reason, despite being protected with arguably the best offensive line in the game, I prefer the other two ahead of him to gain more combined fantasy points. So that is where I’m going to cheat because I just could not pick between them, they are both worthy of getting my pick! The only concern I have is that Bell has struggled with injuries the past few years and is less durable than Johnson.
Arizona Cardinal’s David Johnson set the league ablaze last season to the tune of 1,239 yards on the ground accompanied with a super impressive 879 receiving yards and a combined 20 TD’s. It’s easy to see how Johnson was by far and away number 1 in both PPR and Standard fantasy scoring. I fully expect to see a repeat of those stats this season too, despite being a part of an ageing offence with seasoned veterans Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald more than likely in their final year. DJ has struck up a good rapport with Palmer over the last couple of seasons since his breakthrough in 2015 and seems to be a favourite dump off option within the offence which is more than likely down to his impressive 66.7% catch rate and 54.9 yards per game stat from last season. Le’Veon Bell had a very similar kind of year for The Steelers, if you forget the 4-game ban he occurred at the start of the season. For me, I can’t keep my eyes off this kid running from behind the line of scrimmage. I find myself basking in adoration for that electric stutter step and patience that comes so naturally as he’s seeking a path through the trenches. He does it through the air too, 616 yards receiving with a stunning 79.8% catch success over just 12 games proves it. Add that to 1,268 rushing yards and 9 receiving touchdowns and you have yourself the 4th ranked RB in fantasy last season after 4 less games than most of his nearby rivals. I can’t separate these two, I’d be happy with either as my RB1 this season but unfortunately that does come with a price. Definitely worth it in my opinion though!
Ok, go grab a cold drink and take a seat. You’re not reading a misprint in the next few sentences. The running back I think has a great opportunity to reinvent himself this season is Seahawk’s running back Eddie Lacy. Yes, I said Eddie Lacy. You know, the overweight, ghost-of-a-player that played in Green Bay for the first 4 years of his fluctuating career to date. Forget last season, I’m not going to throw his miserable stats at you because I believe last year was an outlier. Instead, let’s focus on the new and exciting opportunity he will find himself in Seattle. Firstly, revisit history. Do you remember who the Seahawk’s most successful runner was? Marshawn Lynch, aka Beast Mode. A big, bruising, power back who could plow through the biggest of defensive linemen making them look like venerable skittles at a bowling alley. Well, guess what, Lacy has a very similar dynamic in his game with similar attributes. Not only that, he is also going to be running in exactly the same scheme that Lynch had so much success with under Head Coach Pete Carroll.
The weight issues Lacy had are already becoming a past problem as last week he hit his first weight goal of losing a reported 14 pounds and hitting his first goal of being under 255lbs at his first pre-training camp weigh in May. If I was given a reported $55,000 to lose a few pounds, I’d do it as well. His cleverly laid out contract will ensure he will be back in good shape come week 1, which may well be the motivation he needs to replicate his 2014 campaign where he finished with 1,139 rushing yards and 9 TD’s. He’s no slouch catching the ball either. In that same season, he managed to average 26.7 yards per game through the air and contributed 427 yards with 4 TD’s. It goes to prove a fit and healthy Eddie Lacy is a productive machine. Stick him in the right situation which I believe he is in, get him fit and viola, you have a dominant back who can definitely produce as a starting running back in your fantasy team. The only danger is the competition he faces for the lead role. I’m not the biggest Thomas Rawls fan, he’s seemingly always injured and when given the chance hasn’t really blown my socks off which is what I expect to happen in a high powered, run heavy team. CJ Prosise is the other back likely to want reps, but he’s a change of pace guy who will probably be used more in passing down plays. I believe in Eddie Lacy, as long as he can keep hitting those weight targets, you could find yourself getting a locked and loaded RB1. His current ADP is 38, but I think because of recent performances he’ll be available in the 5th, possibly the 6th round. It’s a dart throw, I know, but the upside is there.
The No Likey:
The Chicago Bears are in for a tough season. They seem to be lacking all over the field. QB Jay Cutler has left to be on TV, Alshon Jeffrey has moved to a new team with a brighter short term future in Philadelphia. Two seasons ago, long serving veteran Matt Forte moved to pastures new on the same train explosive wide-out Brandon Marshall got on to head to New York together. The recent draft left a bitter taste in their fans mouths as it was clear Mitchell Trubitsky was not who they wanted to see drafted after giving up so much to move up just one spot. So, all signs are pointing down and I fear that will be the story for Jordan Howard this season. A lot of fantasy analysts keep banging the drum for his production last season, I guess I can see why, to be fair. 1,313 rush yards which was 2nd in the league losing out to only Ezekiel Elliot, 298 through the air and a combined 7 touchdowns. But I feel like I missed It all. Sitting watching Redzone on a Sunday night is the done thing in my household, yet I don’t recall once leaping from my seat because Howard blew me away with a 80 yard breakaway run, a 200 yard game or a multiple touchdown game. That’s because he only had 3 runs over 35 yards, 2 games over 120 yards and only scored rushing touchdowns in 4 games. Yes, I can see where and why he has got the hype from, but for me it’s smoke and mirrors I’m afraid.
Chicago are likely to be playing from behind most of the season meaning they are more likely to be throwing the football. Maybe he will improve on last year’s receiving totals but I cannot see him getting close to the same totals on the ground. Considering he’s currently being drafted at the back end of the first round/top of the second in fantasy drafts, I would personally rather pick up someone in a more stable, higher powered offence with better upside like Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon or even Jay Ajayi.
Thank you for reading my material, be sure you catch my Wide Receiver article which should be coming next week!
By Rob Grimwood – Across The Fantasy Pond – @fantasypond