By: Aaron May (Twitter: @aaroneoussports)
5 Salty NFL Running Backs With Upside In 2017
Military slang meaning old, faded, or well-used; it has a positive connotation.
“That salty Master Sergeant has been in 3 wars!”
When running backs in the NFL hit 30 years old there is a trend of them fading from their former glory. It can be for any number of reasons also; a decline in production, slowing down physically, or (more commonly) injury problems. This fade usually translates to them being written off in Fantasy Football. As a result, their ADPs plummet and the young bucks currently lighting up the league steal the spotlight; and the fantasy roster spots. I want to try to rewrite this narrative by pointing out a few salty “thirty-somethings” that still have great upside potential with pretty darn good value to match heading into the 2017 fantasy season.
At 32 years old, Adrian Peterson is on the back side of his career. This offseason, after 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson signed his tender with the New Orleans Saints. We all know AP has been a Fantasy Football stalwart for the majority of the last decade, but that consistent production doesn’t come without a price. In 2014 and 2016, Peterson struggled with injury, slowing his production to basically ZIP. Last season, AP finished with 36 attempts for 72 yards, and 0 touchdowns through 3 games. That being said, every season AP has played 14 or more games, he has eclipsed 1,000 yards and had at least 10 touchdowns. Some will say that his age means he has to slow down, or that he won’t be the same after the recent injuries, but there is a light in the darkness for Peterson in New Orleans. Mark Ingram, a solid back in his own right, will offer excellent relief for Peterson in 2017; allowing for him to potentially avoid injury with a slightly lighter workload. Until he plays a full season and does not produce his elite numbers, I have to believe he can still get it done. If he can avoid injury, I believe the potential is there for AP to return to his elite fantasy form this season. With an ADP in the first round, don’t feel bad using a roster spot on Peterson if the opportunity presents itself.
Frank Gore a.k.a. “the ageless wonder”. At 34 years old, Gore is one of the oldest backs in the NFL and with 180 games played, a total of 13,065 yards on 2,965 attempts he has a ton of mileage. Somehow, with each passing year, Frank manages to escape the clutches of Father Time and continues to produce while avoiding injury.
In 12 seasons Gore has only missed a total of 12 games, and he has never finished worse than an RB2 for fantasy. That kind of consistency is always desirable in Fantasy Football, no matter the age of the player. It seems like a no brainer to consider a player that has finished as an RB1 the last 2 seasons. What makes it almost too hard to pass up, is when that player has an ADP in the 7th round! That kind of value is unbelievable for a potential RB1, and needs to be taken advantage of. The Colts did draft the talented rookie Marlon Mack, but Gore should still shoulder the lion share of carries while Mack is being acclimated to the ebbs and flows of the NFL. Honestly, until Gore shows signs that he can no longer get it done, he should be considered for your roster; and 2017 is no exception to that statement.
At just 30 years old, Blount is slightly younger than the other backs we have covered to this point, but he is just as salty. Coming off a championship season with the Patriots, Legarrette Blount joined the Philadelphia Eagles backfield for the 2017 season. The Eagles have been very active this offseason, acquiring some very talented offensive weapons to compliment the rising young quarterback Carson Wentz. With the addition of Alshon Jeffery to the backfield, and boasting one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the situation couldn’t be set up any better for Blount to succeed on the ground this year.
Let it be known, that Blount has only hit the 1,000 yard mark twice in his career (2010 with the Bucs and 2016 with the Patriots), which is a undoubtedly a red flag. However, 2016 was far and away his best fantasy performance, finishing as the RB8 with 1,161 yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns on 299 attempts. While that performance will be very hard to repeat, it came because of the volume. The 299 attempts for Blount last season were the most he has ever had in his career, and this is where I am buying Blount stock for my fantasy team in 2017. With the O-line that is in place in Philly, they will want to pound the rock. Who better to oblige than the 250 pound Legarrette Blount? If the volume is there (like I believe it will be) and Blount can stay healthy, I can see him breaking into the RB1 category for the second straight year if all goes well. Blount is currently being drafted in the back of the 4th round and is getting to be a bit expensive, but if his upside hits you will be very happy.
During his time as a Chicago Bear, Matt Forte was hailed as a fantasy stud by all the land. With a high finish as the #3 fantasy running back and a low of only #20, Forte has been as reliable as they come. He has remained healthy for the majority of his career, and has only failed to break 900 yards twice (898 in 2015 and 813 in 2016). The one knock on Forte’s stats are his touchdown totals. He has never been able to get to double digit touchdowns through 9 seasons in the league. Even still, with his floor being in the RB2 range the lack of touchdowns is easier to swallow. Okay, it’s no secret that the New York Jets are one of the worst teams in the NFL heading into 2017, and this situation plays right into Matt Forte’s hands.
With talent lacking on the roster, you can bet the Jets will want to keep the ball on the ground. Forte will cede touches to the beloved Bilal Powell, but with the amount of attempts that will be falling Forte’s way, I am sure he will be the starting runner in the Jets’ backfield (like he was in 2016). Even though last year was Forte’s worst statistical season in his career, he still finished as the RB20 in fantasy. Right now Forte’s ADP is all the way in the 9th round, and for a running back with a starting job, proven top 5 upside, and a top 20 floor, that is a price I’m willing to pay.
While Jonathan Stewart has never been an elite talent in the Fantasy Football realm, he does possess some qualities making him worthy of roster spot consideration. His best fantasy finish came in 2009, he was the RB12 on the year with 1,133 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 221 attempts. The closest J-Stew has come to besting his 2009 season was in 2015 when he rushed for 989 yards and 6 touchdowns on 242 attempts. In the 2017 NFL Draft the Carolina Panthers drafted the stud rookie prospect, Christian McCaffrey. CMC looks to be the real deal and should be a great back in his own right, but there are some factors this year that may have you pumping the breaks on McCaffrey and looking to Stewart to fulfill your running back needs.
Currently, CMC’s ADP is in the 3rd round of drafts, that’s a stiff price to pay for someone who hasn’t played a single down in the NFL. McCaffrey is a dynamic running back that displayed a real talent for pass catching in college, and the reports out of Carolina call for a change in the offensive scheme to better support the talents of their newest weapon. One problem for me is that we don’t know how quickly the Panthers will be able to implement this “new system” effectively, or if they even really will. Also, will Cam be targeting the running back through the air enough to justify CMC as an early round fantasy pick? Time will tell, but for now lets go with what we know. We know Stewart will still get his share of carries this season, especially around the goal line. His ADP in the 9th round makes him an easy player to target for me with the running back position being so barren in the late rounds. I put him in the RB2 with upside category.