Under the Hat – Fantasy 2016 Review. Running Backs @jayhatton49

So Adam and I talked and thought it best to hold off the continuing review of the Fantasy Football season till after the Superbowl, and rightfully so because WOW. One of the best games I have ever seen and discussions about Brady as the best QB ever will continue forever. Personally I would always go Joe Montana because he went 4-0 in Superbowls (Brady has 2 losses) and was virtually perfect in all their championship runs. But you can certainly argue that Brady’s longevity and stellar career in the modern era where it is all but impossible to keep winning teams together, makes a pretty compelling case. What’s even more insane is that current word is that he will probably play at least three more years. He would be 43?!

Anyway,  I really enjoyed putting the Qb rankings up the other week so was thoroughly looking forward to this weeks’ entry, the running back. I am a bit of an old school guy when it comes to football. All the passing yards and receivers flying all over the field is fine and all that but nothing beats a devastating run attack. For me, football is balance. If you can run well, you can pass well. If you pass well but can’t run, then you will soon enough not be able to pass the ball, at all. Basic principle anyway.

Now the 2016 season was a huge renaissance for the running back. 12 players ran for over 1000 yards compared to 7 in 2015. There were 78 more rushing touchdowns compared to 2015 (443 to 365) and 9 players had 200 or more points compared to the WR position which had just 3. My favourite stat however, is that 1 rookie RB ran for more yards than 10 NFL teams (yup Zeke Elliott!). So much for the zero-rb theory, which quite frankly is ridiculous as you have to fill at least 2 RB spots each week so why not invest in at least one guy to plug in and play each week.? I will certainly open up a kind of draft kit to help new players, or even seasoned vets looking to change things up a bit. That’s for 2017 though, so for now, I present the Top 15 running backs in fantasy football and following suit with last weeks look at the QB, my predictions on next year whether they will get better, worse or stay the same.

Note that I will list stats in the following layout:

Points – Yards rushing/Rushing Attempts, Yards Receiving/Catches, Total TD, FUM

1, David Johnson 327 points – 1239/290 rushing, 879/80 receiving, 20 total TD, 5 FUM

David Johnson’s mostrous year had him score the most points by an RB since Chris Johnson’s 342 points in 2009 and the first to hit 300 in 3 years. He hit over 10 points in every game this year except week 17 when he got hurt and scored over 20 points in 9 of the other 15 games. His rushing yards don’t blow you away but his receiving yards and touchdowns set him apart this year. For perspective, Johnson, a RUNNING BACK, had more receiving yards than Allen Robinson, Alshon Jeffrey, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Sammy Watkins. All whom would have been drafted as 1st/2nd round guys.It is hard to believe that 2016 was his second year in the league and only really played in the last 4 games of 2015. The sky’s the limit with this guy and he is one of the three players that I would take 1st overall in next years drafts.There is historical evidence however that the number 1 rb does not repeat as the number 1 guy the following year (LaDanian Tomlinson did it over 10 years ago) but personally I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I don’t think he gets quite the same volume of work next year as you would think the Cards work out a few of their offensive issues from this season but he will be a top 3 guy at worst.

Next year – Worse (marginally)

2, Ezekiel Elliott 293 points – 1631/322 rushing, 363/32 receiving, 16 total TD, 5 FUM

The only guy more impressive this year than David Johnson, was this guy. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott. His worst game all year, was a 10.7 point outing in week 14 where he didn’t score a TD but still hit over 100 yards. His WORST GAME! His best game you ask? An absurd 38 point explosion where he racked off 114 yards and 2 TD on the ground along with 95 and a TD receiving. He had over 20 points in 7 of his 15 games and only didn’t hit 300 points this year because he was rested in the last week of the season. Of the ‘Big 3’ ‘backs that you are going to hear about all summer, I would take this guy with the top pick and not even think twice. He had 80 or more yards in 13 of his 15 games and had 5 with multiple scores. Averaging at 108 scrimmage yards and 1 TD a game, or around 16 fantasy points, behind the best offensive line in the league you plug this guy in as your RB one and forget about it.

Next year – Stay the same

3, LeSean McCoy 248 points – 1267/234 rushing, 356/50 receiving, 14 total TD, 3 FUM

One of the more pleasant surprise of the fantasy season, the re-emergence of Shady McCoy. Long an afterthought stuck in the snow of Buffalo, he had a terrific year. He had 7 100 yard games and the games where he had stinkers, he still scored! He scored more than 15 points in 9 contests but did leave 2 games with injuries and missed 1 game all together so pretty much missed 3 games despite the official record saying he played in 15. The bell cow in the number 1 running attack in the NFL, he sliced and diced like the ‘Shady’ McCoy of old. Speaking of old, he will be 29 next year so nearing the dreaded 30 year old plateau when most NFL running backs get put out to pasture. Add to this the man that ran the number 1 rushing attack is now the HC of the San Di…LA Chargers and the fact that he had a few injuries, I am not so sure about his production next year. With battering ram Mike Gilleslee vulturing his goal line touches and only 1 other 10+ TD to his name in his 8 year career, I think there will be a drop off for Shady in 2017 despite his consistent production in previous years.

Next year – Worse

4, Le’Veon Bell 245 points – 1268/261 rushing, 616/75 receiving, 9 total TD, 4 FUM

The final man in the ‘top 3’ debate that I guarantee will rage on all summer, Le’Veon Bell. More similar to David Johnson in his usage, piling up 1884 scrimmage yards in only 12 contests(3 lost to suspension and rested 1 week) which is a staggering 157 yards a game. Average that out over a 16 games and he scores 326 points and loses to DJ by 1 point. Consistent as he was deadly, he destroyed the Buffalo Bills all by himself in week 14 to the tune of 298 scrimmage yards, 3 touchdowns and 48 fantasy points. When he played he only failed to score 10 plus points once and the rest of the time quite honestly did whatever he wanted for the rest of the season. He actually got BETTER as the year went on as they decided that putting the ball in his hands rather than Ben Roethlisbergers was the better option. They were right. I don’t think you could argue with anyone in particular over who you take number 1 next year, whether it be Bell, Elliott or Johnson. Bell should vault himself back officially in the top three next year providing he doesn’t get suspended…. again.

Next year – Better

5, DeMarco Murray 240 points – 1287/293 rushing, 377/53 receiving, 12 total TD, 3 FUM

Exotic Smashmouth. That was the headline term that came out of Tennessee all summer, and most, if not all pundits laughed at HC Mike Mularkey. Man were those pundits wrong! Led by DeMarco Murray, who along with McCoy, had a great year despite being written off as a product of a system behind the famed Dallas offensive line. While not as gaudy as his fellow top 5ers, he was remarkable for the Titans and scored very well each week. Scoring 10+ or more in 13 of 16 games, he was the workhorse back that we all saw a few years ago and he did not disappoint. With stud rookie Derrick Henry, you can include me in the list of naysayers that doubted Murray’s stronghold on the RB1 spot with the Titans. Henry in fact was an utter beast and only stayed on the bench because Murray was just straight up better. Unfortunately for him, like McCoy above, he is the wrong side of 25 and getting closer to 30. Don’t get me wrong, there are some backs that can shine and produce over 30 but there are not many. Adrian Peterson (who I am sure is a robot) and Frank Gore are the only other guys that come to mind when you think of being as good or better in their 30’s. You saw Derrick Henry eventually eat into his touches at the end of the season, probably to save him a bit as his initial workload early on in the year was ridiculous. Hard to tell how it will go but I am sure they will use the 245lb-yet-somehow-lightning-fast Henry more next year and go with a more balanced attack to complement an improving Marcos Mariota.

Next year – Worse

6, Devonta Freeman 230 points – 1079/227 rushing, 462/54 receiving, 13 total TD, 1 FUM

Freeman is the only player on this list that was a top 4 running back last year to make the top 10 overall skill player list in 2016. Most figured for some kind of regression from last year but thanks to the number one offense in the league, that did not happen! His touches were slightly nibbled on by Tevin Coleman and the Falcons ability to spread the ball around to whoever was open but that makes Freeman’s year all the more impressive. More than 1500 scrimmage yards and 13 TD’s on the year and only 1 fumble in 281 touches is beyond impressive considering his relatively small stature. Freeman launches out of the backfield like a cannonball and although there were some single digit horror shows, take those 6 games out of the equation and he averaged 19 fantasy points game for the other 10. Very impressive. Recently, Freeman and/or his agent, have said that no matter the outcome of the Superbowl, he wants to get paid in the offseason so it is not out of the question that he is playing someone other than Atlanta next year. With this uncertainty in mind, I will play safe and presume that he gets similar touches and production.

Next year – Stays the same

7, LeGarrette Blount 225 points – 1161/299 rushing, 38/7 receiving, 18 TD, 2 FUM

LeGarrette Blount has been bounced around a few teams during his NFL career and like most troubled stars, has somehow found a home in New England. Most believed that without Brady for the first month of the season, Blount would be the workhouse but once Brady came back, they would resort to a more pass heavy attack. Man were those guys wrong! 18 rushing touchdowns and Patriots single season record wrong! Don’t get me wrong, his yards per game are not great but doesn’t do passing downs and has a heavy involvement in short yardage situations but who cares, 18 touchdowns!? He failed to top 90 yards in 11 of his 16 games but racked up double digit fantasy points in 12 thanks to his TD’s so he was a ridiculous value pickup if you had him. The writing is semi on the wall though as it seems as now Dion Lewis is back, he is taking a bunch of his touches and James White already takes a good chunk of passing plays too. So there doesn’t seem to be much going for him other than touches inside the redzone. Barring another few injuries to the Patriots other running backs, Blount has the biggest chance to drop off altogether next year.

Next year – Worse

8, Melvin Gordon 209 points – 997/254 rushing, 419/41 receiving, 12 total TD, 2 FUM

Man you have to feel for Melvin Gordon. After one of the more miserable rookie campaigns in recent memory, Gordon exploded out of the gates and scored 7 TDs in the first 7 games of the year. For Gordon though, the year was very different before and after the bye week. He scored double digit points in 9 of 10 games before his bye week but scored over 10 points just once in the last 6. Yes three of those he was injured but it was quite a fall from grace after such an amazing start. Expectations for next year are difficult to gauge as you could argue that much of his production was the result of all the injuries to the rest of the team. His talent is there though so if he stays healthy, you would expect at least another 10+ TD next year. Their WR corp will be sneaky good though and they could still bring back 3rd down specialist, and Philip Rivers favourite, Danny Woodhead. Without Woodhead, or another 3rd down type guy, Gordon was thrust in to the 3 down back role which he maybe was not originally pegged in for. He performed well when called up and until he got injured, he easily would have hit 1100 yards and 15 scores. The one thing he has massively in his favour is new HC Anthony Lynn who as I mentioned led the league’s number 1 rushing attack so if anyone can ensure that Gordon builds on this success from 2016, it’s Lynn..

Next year – Better

9, Jordan Howard 201 points – 1313/252 rushing, 298/29 receiving, 7 total TD, 2 FUM

Quietly, Howard rushed for the second most yards in 2016, making it the first time ever that the two top rushers in the NFL were rookies. Add the fact that his first start as a pro came in week 4 makes it even more impressive. The last 6 weeks of the season he really came on and averaged 15 fantasy points a game so real progress was made. He can catch as well as anyone out of the backfield (10 yards a catch) so you would hope that he gets a full 3 down role next year. The touchdowns weren’t there but the Bears offense in general was not fantastic so his overall production was one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise dismal season. Unless John Fox somehow decides that there are better running backs on this team, Howard should at least hit the same yardage but with more scores.

Next year – Better

10, Mark Ingram 196 – 1043/205 rushing, 319/46 receiving, 10 total TD, 2 FUM

Mark Ingram is the first guy here that didn’t really play consistently. Like, at all. Looking at his fantasy numbers he either scored 20 plus or less than 5. Home run or strike out. Nothing in between in seems. So up and down was Ingram that he literally split his games of above and below 10 points at an even 8 each. Rather incredible if you think about it. He had just 100 yards rushing three times which is not what you would expect to see out of a top 10 player. Sharing backfield duties didn’t help obviously which kind of symbolises his whole career really, seems to be getting somewhere, then gets fumblitus for two straight weeks and gets benched. Same system next year and Hightower played well enough to keep the RB split going so his outlook next year will be much of the same. 1400 total yards for Ingram and 700 from Hightower so lots of production but far too difficult to accurately pick each week. Same with the entire Saints roster to be fair so they are very much a matchup based look each week. One worrying note, against good defenses (the Giants, Panthers, Seahawks, Denver and Arizona) he failed to reach the 10 point mark in all of them. For me, no more than a match up guy against bad defences despite putting up semi decent numbers again.

Next year – Worse

11, Jay Ajayi 188 points – 1272/260 rushing, 151/27 receiving, 8 TD, 4 FUM

After a slow start to the season, and failing to win the trust of his coaching staff, his week 5 42 yards and TD might not have seemed like much. Watching his tape though, you could see how his violent, brutal running style was waking up. No one could have predicted what happend over the next 2 weeks when he became the 4th player in history to run for back to back 200 yard games. If you saw those games, you would have been amazed. Honestly, it was incredible watching him smash in to defenders and literally running right over them. Offensive line injuries and bad match ups led to a lull of sorts but you could see the talent was still there and ploughing through the Buffalo Bills for a SECOND time was further proof of his ability. His critics could argue that over half of his rushing yards (735) came in just 4 games so his production over the other 12 was relatively poor and he is not yet an asset in the passing game either. When they moved to a more run heavy attack, Ryan Tannehill actually got much better so it would make sense to roll with what works. Another year under his belt and the hope that his team funnels the ball through him a bit more, consistency and being involved in 3rd down situations will be the only thing that could stop him improving.

Next year – Better

12, Frank Gore 176 points – 1025/263 rushing, 277/38 receiving, 8 total TD, 2 FUM

It is not just that Frank Gore is a legend in San Francisco, but this guy is just a great football player. One of the most complete backs in league history with 9 1000 yard seasons under his belt and his workload at 33 was the same as when he was with the 49ers, a testament to his work ethic and talent. Unlike the two players above him on this list, Frank was the model of consistency and an asset in both run and passing game. 10 of his 16 games were over 10 points and only 1 game with under 75 scrimmage yards. If you needed a solid RB2 of flex, Frank was your guy. Sadly, I think Frank starts to decline from next year as the Colts should really look to improve their running game so his 300 total touches this year will definitely not happen. Worth a flyer in the later rounds possibly as a worthy backup, but Frank’s time as a top 15 RB are coming to a close. His 2 seasons at the Colts have resulted in yardage but were the only 2 times where he averaged under 4 yards a carry.

Next year – Worse

13, Latavius Murray 175 points – 788/195 rushing, 264/33 receiving, 12 TD, 2 FUM

Another player hampered by a running back committee, Murray played well but as you can see by his figures, like a younger LeGarrette Blount, the bulk of his points were in his touchdowns. Like Blount and Ingram, sharing work loads leads to wide variations in production, like the couple of 2 point duds to his 30 point outburst of week 9 against the Denver Broncos. His 12 TD’s came in 8 games so either his role remains the same and he gets the goal line touches and majority of the early down touches again or the Raiders explore the promising rookie seasons of their two understudies, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Either way, I am not optimistic about his output next year mainly because Richard and Washington seem much more explosive and Derek Carr is likely to improve on his own passing numbers and TD’s.

Next year – Worse

14, Isaiah Crowell 165 points – 952/198 rushing, 319/40 receiving, 7 TD, 2 FUM

Crowell is a talented guy and had a great start to the year, scoring 20 points in 2 of the first 4 games of the year. Sadly, the lack of talent around him on the Browns squad led to too many games playing from behind and trying to pass their way out of trouble. Add the revolving door of QB’s then you can see why he had such a tough time. You can see the talent there though in his 8 strong games of over 10 points or more. Those other games, were mostly crappy because of games getting away or just because they strangely decided not to use him. Much of the Browns season was strange though but should the Browns make ANY type of improvements then Crowell gets the ball more and his scrimmage yardage screams up too. He will need more TD’s to boost him into the top 10 but getting to no 14 in RB fantasy scoring on a 1-15 team is seriously impressive. He was useful in the passing game to so I would look at Crowell next year above the previous 5 guys on this list for sure.

Next year – Better

15, Carlos Hyde 165 points – 988/217 rushing, 163/27 receiving, 9 total TD, 5 FUM

The bell cow in Chip Kelly’s offense gets work. A lot of it. Bad thing is that Hyde was again not able to stay healthy enough to play all 16 games and his production suffered. He had several great games with 20 plus points and was generally good when he played but the injury bug is concerning for both the 49ers and his fantasy value.  Hyde is very much in the mould of a Jay Ajayi or a Thomas Rawls. They don’t just take contact, they initiate it and it’s great to watch. He improved his passing numbers but still lost the majority of the passing downs to guys like Shaun Draughn so that needs to change for him to be an RB1 type. Kyle Shanahan has proven ability to get production out of his running backs and Hyde has the talent to do much better than he has in his first three years. I don’t see a drop in production because his points this year I would say are his floor, his ceiling could be much higher. Worth investing as your RB2 or 3 next year under a new offensive scheme.

Next year – Stays the same

Honourable mentions:

17. Tevin Coleman –  160 points. Almost as many receiving yards as rushing and a staggering 11 total touchdowns despite being number 2 on the depth chart in Atlanta. Only finished 5 points behind Carlos Hyde. If Freeman leaves Atlanta, he takes RB1 duties.

24. Terrance West – 137 points. Similar story to Crowell, played well but their offense just refused to give him the ball. Arguments over him or Kenneth Dixon will rage on into the offseason but when asked to play, and given the opportunity, he played very well.

38. Ty Montgomery – 96 points. The WR turned RB showed flashes of being a game changer but needs to learn the position and perfect his new craft. Looks like a better option than Eddie Lacy anyway.

Disappointments:

18. Lemar Miller – 160 points. Bad team, one bright spot was Miller. Should have a much better year next year as long as Brock Osweiller is not under center.

19. Jeremy Hill – 155 points. Generally disappointing but equally frustrating had some great fantasy outputs. No consistency and extremely TD dependent.

20. Todd Gurley  – 155 points. Such promise in year 1, saw heavy decline this year thanks to the league’s worst offense. Only way is up I suppose?

52. Doug Martin – 71 points. This shouldn’t have been a surprise as Martin’s production varies year on year. Injuries derailed him and then a suspension ended his season early.

57. Thomas Rawls – 62 points. Violent runner as previously mentioned. Supposed to take over from Marshawn Lynch but has failed to live up to the lofty and possibly unfair expectations. Can’t stay on the field and added to the Seahawks offensive woes.

Guys to look out for next year:

CJ Prosise – Seahawks – showed incredible flashes of brilliance and a much more versatile option at running back. He amassed just under 400 yards in his 4 games so if they stay healthy, he and Rawls will be one of the best backfields in the league.

Rex Burkhead – Bengals – with Jeremy Hill underperforming most weeks and Gio Bernard getting injured, Burkhead played very well and might leave Bernard expendable.

Derek Henry – Titans – should get more work next year, the Titans would be idiots to keep him on the bench so expect the 245lb monster to be more heavily featured next year.

There it is, QB’s and RB’s down. Would love your feedback and suggestions on other players that you liked or hated. Tight ends next, Kickers and Defences, then Wide Receivers to go!

@jayhatton49

 

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