By: CouchPotato GM (Twitter: @CPGMHeadley)
Year 2 Outlook: Runningbacks
Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
What Happened – 322 carries 1631 yards 5.1 YPC 15 TDs, 32 receptions 363 yards 1 TD
Elliott hit the ground running after somewhat struggling for the first two games of the season. In a 4-week stretch from Weeks 3-6 the NFL’s rushing leader ran for at least 134 yards in four consecutive games. He was the Cowboys workhorse running behind the monstrous Cowboys offensive line in route to a historic rookie performance. Elliott lived up to the consensus fantasy first round pick expectations in his first year after being drafted 4th overall when the Cowboys clearly needed more help on defense. The 1631 yards he amassed put him in rarefied air as the third most rushing yards as a rookie in NFL history.
What Changed – The offensive line lost two components of its well-oiled machine in Doug Free (retirement) and Ronald Leary (Free Agency). The departures have forced the line to shuffle a bit as La’el Collins who I believe is a better guard will move outside to right tackle and Chaz Green will make an attempt to play left guard. It is safe to say the offensive line of 2016 is more dominant than the line the Cowboys will trot out there for the opening game in 2017. These moves coupled with NFL teams putting more focus on taking away the Cowboys rushing attack should decrease Elliott’s production this season.
What to Expect – Although I expect Elliott to face tougher fronts zeroing in on the Cowboys rushing attack, this could potentially backfire on defenses allowing Zeke to break longer runs if he improves his elusiveness and second level running in 2017. The small dip I expect in rushing yards will be made up through more receptions and receiving yards as the Cowboys should let Elliott leak out of the backfield to circumvent stack boxes. Yes, the Cowboys offensive line is weaker this season but they still possess one of the best lines in football as long as their Top 3 guys Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick is lacing them up. Zeke will be a Top 5 selection in this year’s fantasy drafts with Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson being the only running backs ahead of him at the position.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
What Happened – 110 carries 490 yards 4.5 YPC 5 TDs, 13 receptions 137 yards 0 TD
The former Heisman Trophy winner Henry was relegated to backup duties as he was stuck behind DeMarco Murray who had a bounce back season in 2016 rushing for 1287 yards and 9 TDs. Henry only had 4 games all of last season with 10+ carries and couldn’t really showcase his bruising 6’3 247 pound talents consistently. A spectator dissecting his game saw all they needed to see though as the preseason and his limited touches in the regular season displayed a man amongst boys as Henry plowed through tackles with sneaky elusiveness. The shiftiness is what I was most surprised by as his feet in the hole were one of the biggest knocks on him throughout the draft process.
What Changed – For all intents and purposes Murray is still the bell cow in Tennessee and Henry will still spell him throughout the season. The Titans still have one of the best offensive lines in football and Marcus Mariota’s run based smash mouth offense is still prevalent. Not much changed for Henry except for the fact the Murray is now a year older entering his 7th NFL season after carrying the football 293 times last season. The takeover is near and I’m doubling down that it will happen this season.
What to Expect – The takeover, the break’s over, GOD MC, you know the rest. I fully expect Henry to take the reins of the running back position and not look back. I’m not exactly sure when it will happen; whether it is Week 1 or a quarter way through the season but when it does you better sure hope Henry is on your fantasy team. The Titans are built to play power football by running the ball down the opposing teams’ throats and Henry is a specimen built to do just that. This is a marriage made in heaven in which with all due respect to Murray, he is in the way of. I didn’t expect the renaissance season from Murray in which he was extremely effective as a ball carrier and receiver out of the backfield but we want to see Henry run through, around and by opponents for six over and over and over and over again.
If he gets a full season to start you can expect RB1 numbers, if he only starts half of the season then he will be a great stash option. Dynasty/Keeper league members please do your best to acquire this young man if you don’t already own him.
Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins
What Happened – 33 carries 179 yards 5.4 YPC 2 TDs, 9 receptions 46 yards 0 TD
Not much happened for Drake last season as Jay Ajayi took the position over in Week 6 and never looked back. Before the explosion of the Jay Train it was veteran Arian Foster leading the way of a full blown committee that kept Drake on the back burner. Drake has always been used in back up duties since his college days. The third-down change-of-pace back who excelled as a special teamer at Alabama was stuck behind Henry and T.J. Yeldon. One positive note was the fact that Drake stayed healthy in his rookie season as he battled numerous injuries while at Alabama. Only 42 touches last season might be the reason why as the Dolphins coaching staff led by Adam Gase didn’t quite trust the rookie all season long.
What Changed – The calendar, it’s a whole new year for Drake who gets an opportunity to showcase his value to the team. When drafted in the third round last season the Dolphins had to know they weren’t getting a bell cow type running back, but a guy who can create mismatches in space. He needs to prove himself to the coaching staff that he should be on the field on third downs as a dynamic weapon out of the backfield. The Dolphins re-signed last year’s backup Damien Williams to a 1-year restricted tender but look for them to try and involve Drake more within the offense.
What to Expect – Drake’s fantasy value is up in the air at the moment as Ajayi will be the clear work-horse as the team was extremely successful last season with him in that role. The first thing Drake will need to do is gain the trust of the coaching staff. Once that mission is completed he will need an injury, multiple fumbles or bad football from Ajayi to have any fantasy success. It is a longshot but if you are in a fantasy league with a deep bench and you are looking for a Hail Mary play then Drake is your guy as the regime drafted him in the third round and will try and make him succeed as much as possible.
C.J. Prosise – Seattle Seahawks
What Happened – 30 carries 172 yards 5.4 YPC 1 TD, 17 receptions 208 yards 0 TD
The former receiver turned running back for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was a very raw prospect that was drafted in the third round by Pete Carroll who has established a track record of developing guys who changed positions in their career. The loss of Marshawn Lynch in 2016 had the team scrambling as they selected three running backs in the draft including Prosise, even though they already had Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael on the roster. It was a head scratcher for me at the time because I liked Rawls and I believed Michael was a pretty good backup. Fast forward through the season with Michael’s release and Rawls inability to stay healthy and you have Prosise who flashed as a dynamic playmaker last season. It was a quick lightning like flash of two weeks in Week 10 and 11 where Prosise dominated for 234 total yards and exceeded my expectations with his athleticism and easy speed.
What Changed – More competition in the backfield with the addition of former Packer Eddie Lacy. The Seahawks brought over a powerful in between the tackles runner who is a couple years removed from being the man with back-to-back 1100 yards season in 2013 and 2014. Lacy’s weight issue has derailed his stardom but he will get a chance in Seattle to revive his career similarly to the way the Seahawks revived Marshawn Lynch’s career after he struggled in Buffalo. Lacy and Rawls won’t cut into the third down work of Prosise however if you are counting on Prosise becoming the fantasy stud he has the potential to be; he will need to cut into their first and second down carries. If you are talking Seattle’s running game it is extremely important we speak about their offensive line.
The weak spot of the team over the last couple of seasons didn’t make any drastic changes as they brought in a disappointing Luke Joeckel from Jacksonville and drafted a Swiss army knife lineman Ethan Pocic out of LSU. The line should still struggle to get a push in the run game which could turn into a positive for Prosise as the Seahawks might just open the offense up entirely with 4 receiver sets and Prosise next to Russell Wilson in the gun.
What to Expect – First and foremost the 2nd year back will need to stay healthy as he has been limited by injury all off-season and knocked with a shoulder injury in 2016. Once Prosise gets back on the field I fully expect him to have a major role within the offense even with the addition of Lacy and the return of Rawls.
I believe we have seen the best of Lacy in his career and highly doubt he will be an effective runner behind a porous offensive line in which the running back will need to create their own yardage. This leaves Prosise to battle with the oft injured Rawls who although I like, his physical running style might suggest that he will be the low man in running back shares. Give me all of the Prosise stock in re-draft leagues and especially in dynasty/keeper leagues. He flashed last season as an explosive player that the Hawks will like to implement in their wide open spread offense with Wilson as the captain. I see Prosise leading the Seahawks in rushing this season to go along with the additional bonus of catching 60+ passes in this offense, PPR sleeper watch!
Kenneth Dixon – Baltimore Ravens
What Happened – 88 carries 382 yards 4.3 YPC 2 TDs, 30 receptions 162 yards 1 TD
The Ravens seemed to have acquired a fourth round gem in drafting Dixon as his college tape showed a guy who can run in between the tackles with decisiveness and his pass catching abilities had him pegged to be a three down back at the next level. Throw in the fact that he was going to an offense under coordinator Marc Trestman who has a propensity to get huge receiving numbers out of his running backs had you thinking fantasy gold. Well pump the breaks, after the offense struggled out of the gates Trestman was relieved of his duties and Dixon was stuck behind a RB committee of Justin Forsett who was released after Week 4 and Terrance West. With Forsett out of the picture and Dixon returning from injury many believed it was a matter of time before he took over as the full-time running back for the Ravens. We were wrong again as Dixon finished the season in an even time share with West and never got the chance to truly demonstrate his ability as the Ravens led the league in pass attempts.
What Changed – The BIG elephant in the room is the 4-game PED suspension that Dixon will face for violating the league’s policy. Once again he will miss the first quarter of the season but this year the Ravens brought in a pass catching dynamo in Danny Woodhead. Before getting injured last year playing for the Chargers, Woodhead was responsible for keeping the electrifying Melvin Gordon on the sidelines. The Ravens backfield once again has all the makings of a full blown committee with West returning, the addition of Woodhead and Dixon facing a 4-game ban. The Ravens retained offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg who replaced Trestman and it will be his responsibility to run the football more this season as the Ravens had way too many pass attempts in 2016.
What to Expect – Although I am still a fan of the talented Dixon, I would be hard pressed to select him in fantasy leagues due to the crowded backfield the Ravens possess. The addition of Woodhead is the most concerning factor for Dixon’s fantasy success this season. Although Dixon is more talented than both Woodhead and West, the Ravens more than likely will keep Woodhead on the field on third downs due to his exceptional pass blocking and pass catching abilities. Dixon has an uphill battle as he needs to get back on the field, show the coaching staff he can be trusted, improve his pass blocking and then un-seat West as the main ball carrier on early downs. I am still holding out hope that Dixon will emerge as the featured back for the Ravens; therefore, I will roll the dice on him in keeper/dynasty leagues as a late round flier.
Devontae Booker – Denver Broncos
What Happened – 174 carries 612 yards 3.5 YPC 4 TDs, 31 receptions 265 yards 1 TD
Ok I will admit, I was the guy who boldly stated that Booker should be mentioned in the first tier of rookie running backs along with Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry. I was wrong in year 1 but there are reasons why Booker averaged an abysmal 3.5 yards per carry. We can start with the offensive line as they failed to provide any push in the run game which led to a below standard rushing performance for a Broncos team that has excelled at running the football under head coach Gary Kubiak. Another factor for the running struggles can be pointed at the quarterback play by starter Trevor Siemian. It’s not that Siemian played terrible all season long but opposing defenses did not worry about Siemian beating them with his arm. The Broncos saw many stacked boxes which lead to a team average of 3.6 yards per carry. Even after C.J. Anderson went down with a knee injury half way through the season, Booker didn’t capitalize on his opportunity as indecisiveness in the Broncos zone scheme and fumbles plagued his rookie season.
What Changed – The Broncos made a concerted effort this offseason to improve the maligned offensive line by signing one of the best guards in free agency Ronald Leary from the Cowboys and drafting the first lineman off the board in the NFL Draft Garett Bolles. These two additions should improve the running game. However, the Broncos no longer have the running game guru Kubiak and has replaced him with the defensive minded head coach Vance Joseph and new coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy, a familiar face spent 4 years as OC in Denver before coaching the Chargers for another 4 seasons returns to the fold and will look to implement more power running schemes to the offense. Add the addition of Jamaal Charles who was released by the Chiefs after battling a knee injury and the return of Anderson from his own knee injury and you have yourself a dreaded RBBC backfield.
What to Expect – Honestly I am not sure what to think about Booker’s fantasy prospects in the 2017 season. The Broncos will more than likely use the hot-hand approach and give the carries to whoever is producing through practice and in games. This is a scary proposition for fantasy owners as week-to-week a different Bronco running back can lead the team in carries. Training Camp and pre-season games will give us a better idea of who picks up McCoy’s offense quicker and who looks the best in his power running scheme. As of right now it is a wait and see approach with Booker as his competitors Anderson is a terrific ball carrier and Charles when healthy is one of the best backs we’ve seen over the last 15 years.
DeAndre Washington – Oakland Raiders
What Happened – 87 carries 467 yards 5.4 YPC 2 TDs, 17 receptions 115 yards 0 TD
The Raiders who own one of the best offensive line groups in football did a terrific job of running the football finishing sixth in the league in rushing. However the bad news for Washington was that he only received 87 of the 434 rushing attempts for the Raiders. He was stuck in a platoon behind Latavius Murray while being outplayed by second string back Jalen Richard consistently last season. He found himself inactive for a three game stretch late in the season and didn’t produce much fantasy value with his only bright spot being a Week 16, 99-yard 2 TD rushing performance.
What Changed – The departure of Murray to Minnesota was a welcomed sight for dynasty/keeper owners as they held out hope that the Raiders would stand pact with him and Richard splitting carries in 2017. It was looking good until you started to hear the rumblings of Marshawn Lynch coming out of retirement and potentially joining his home town Oakland team. The fantasy stock of Washington finally came crashing down with the Raiders acquiring Lynch and a 2018 sixth-round pick from the Seahawks in exchange for a 2018 fifth-round pick just one day before the draft.
What to Expect – If you are glass half full type of person then you may have the mindset that Beast Mode is a short term play for the Raiders who signed him to a 2-year contract which essentially was a 1-year deal with an option for a second season. If Washington can carve out a third down role ahead of Richard (who was more productive as a pass catcher last season) then he has an opportunity to see the field more this season which can set him up to be the heir apparent to Lynch. Now if you want to be realistic it might be time to punt on Washington’s fantasy prospects as Richard seems to be the better of the two and it’s looking more than likely he will be the odd man out this season.
Paul Perkins – New York Giants
What Happened – 112 carries 456 yards 4.1 YPC 0 TD, 15 receptions 162 yards 0 TD
The Giants had a mess of a situation last season in their backfield finishing 29th in rushing and dead last in the league in rushing touchdowns. The offensive line was pitiful causing the platoon of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa and Paul Perkins to rush for a meager 3.5 yards per carry. The former UCLA product Perkins came on towards the end of the season leading the Giants in rushing attempts and yards in the final 4 weeks of the year. He capped it off in Week 17 with the only 100 yard rushing performance all season for the New York Giants. With Vereen battling injuries all season long in 2016, Perkins was the only back to show any explosion and spark for the team as he showcased a burst and elusiveness in the open field the team has been missing for quite some time.
What Changed – The Giants backfield is still pretty crowded but with the release of Jennings, Perkins is the clear cut favorite and number 1 back on the depth chart for the Giants. The Giants have been raving all off-season about Perkins as their three-down back and even with the return of Vereen; he should get the first crack and opportunity to be the man in the Giants backfield. What didn’t change however for the team who couldn’t run the football last year is the porous offensive line. The Giants are bringing back 4 of the 5 starters from last season with the only new addition being D.J. Fluker from the Chargers who hasn’t quite lived up to his lofty draft expectations. The line is currently in flux as they still haven’t figured out who will play what position along the front; the Giants have a musical chairs situation going on which is never good for cohesiveness.
What to Expect – Although I am a fan of what Perkins can bring to the table, I am not a fan of the offensive line. The team could’ve drafted an offensive lineman early in the 2017 NFL draft but chose to draft TE Evan Engram, DT Dalvin Tomlinson and QB Davis Webb with their first three picks. This strategy makes me pessimistic for the fantasy value of Perkins even with him being the unquestioned starter in New York. Perkins is an elusive back who can create yardage on his own but as CPGM has been telling you for quite some time now; the offensive line is the most important position group in football. The Giants have to win up front to be able to run the football consistently. They’re betting on left tackle Ereck Flowers and right tackle Bobby Hart taking a huge step forward but if those are the guys they are counting on I am not selecting Perkins until late in fantasy drafts. The sheer volume he will receive might make him a sneaky addition but I doubt he reaches over 4 yards per carry this season.
Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
What Happened – 252 carries 1313 yards 5.2 YPC 6 TDs, 29 receptions 298 yards 1 TD
The biggest surprise in the league last season was the emergence of Jordan Howard. The fifth-round pick out of Indiana was brought in as depth for the Bears backfield to add a power element behind Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Injuries in the backfield and the inefficiency of Langford led the Bears to insert Howard in the lineup Week 4 of the season and he never looked back racking up seven 100-yard games and finishing 2nd in the league in rushing behind Ezekiel Elliott. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for Zeke, Howard would’ve been the talk of the league last year. The Bears rookie sensation showcased he is more than just the power back he was pegged to be with his decisiveness and quickness through the hole, elusiveness and agility at the second level and being a factor out of the backfield in the passing game.
What Changed – Howard will start the 2017 season the same way he ended the 2016 campaign as the “MAN”. The level of expectation will be the main difference this season however as Howard enters this year as the RB1 with the pressure squarely on his back due to the inexperienced quarterback situation in Chicago. Teams will pack the box on Howard this season as their opponents will not respect the passing game very much. Look for Howard to churn out tough physical yardage on the ground for the Monsters of the Midway.
The possible recovery of Kyle Long who was loss for half the season due to shoulder and ankle injuries would be a welcomed sight for a Bears line who possesses one of the best interior line groups in football. Left guard Josh Sitton and another Bears rookie sensation Cody Whitehair made up the other two-thirds push to the second level opening up holes for Howard. The QB is the biggest change for the Bears this offseason as they brought in Mike Glennon and traded up to draft Mitch Trubisky with the second pick in the NFL Draft. However, neither should have much impact on Howard’s prowess on the ground as he produced with less than favorable quarterback play last season.
What to Expect – 1313 yards with 5.2 yards per carry will be hard to replicate for Howard in his second season, nevertheless I would not be surprised if he put up similar rushing totals with more catches and touchdowns than he had last season. Howard has slimmed down in the off-season by changing his diet similarly to the way Le’Veon Bell did after his rookie season and is poised to lead the entire league in rushing. He surely has the motivation to improve his game and will be a force to reckon with this upcoming season. I expect a larger role in the passing game and I don’t anticipate Howard coming off the field very much which makes him a true three-down running back. The second round ADP Howard is currently being drafted at is a bargain in my opinion as he will put up RB1 numbers this season and finish as a top back in football once again. He is not a one-year wonder folks.
Jonathan Williams – Buffalo Bills
What Happened – 27 carries 94 yards 3.5 YPC 1 TD, 1 reception 0 yards 0 TD
Not much production for Williams as you can tell from his above statistical production last season. Coming into 2016 after being a fifth-round draft pick by the Bills, Williams was stuck behind perennial pro-bowl RB LeSean McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush and Karlos Williams who eventually self-destructed out of the league. He didn’t receive over 5 carries in any games last season as he was relegated to mop up duty when he wasn’t a healthy scratch. He sat out multiple games as the fourth string running back and was never part of the game plan.
What Changed – You may be wondering why Williams is included in this post due to his involvement last season but the changes in Buffalo with the loss of Gillislee to the rival Patriots coupled with the aforementioned Karlos Williams and Bush both gone, gives the second year back a primed opportunity to get significant playing time this season. Williams enters the season as the clear cut number 2 back on the roster behind McCoy, a 29-year-old running back who has been hampered with soft tissue injuries the last 2 years and no guaranteed money on the books beyond this season. If Williams can prove dependable under the new coaching staff then he may be in position to have a long term dynasty impact for the Buffalo Bills.
What to Expect – I expect dynasty owners to take a chance on the underrated Williams who showcased plus ability at the University of Arkansas when healthy. He has the footwork to bounce around in tight quarters with the explosion and power to make an impact on the second level. He should be drafted as a security blanket to Shady McCoy due to the veteran’s injury history. Williams will need to overcome a new coaching staff led by Head Coach Sean McDermott from the Panthers who brought in Mike Tolbert as running back/full back type player from yep the Panthers. Even with certain obstacles in Williams’ way including his injury history, he looks to be the future back in Buffalo and has dynasty/keeper appeal.