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Welcome back to our Second Edition of Fantasy Football Risers and Fallers. Today we’ll be focusing on running backs, a crucial position. As the NFL continues to shift more towards a passing attack on offense it’s becoming more difficult to roster three capable running backs. In fact, my Fantasy Football league has gotten so sick of it that we’ve changed our starting roster format to starting on RB and two flex players.

There’s always a couple of running backs that pop up big time during the season though. Unless you were lucky enough to grab Robert Kelley or Jordan Howard off the waiver wire last year, you were probably searching for an answer that was never to be found.

Fantasy running backs can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. There’s nothing better than getting to start two stud running backs and seeing your opponent lining up Theo Riddick and Bilal Powell. Seriously. There is nothing better.

I’d rather have LeSean McCoy and Melvin Gordon on my Fantasy roster than a lot of other things. I will still take Gordon and McCoy over free pizza for a year and not have to cut my lawn for the entire summer. I live in Wisconsin and if someone in my Fantasy league offered me Theo Riddick and to shovel my driveway all winter long in exchange for just LeSean McCoy, I still wouldn’t take that deal. However, if he agreed to do it in a t-shirt with no gloves and one of those plastic sand shovels then I might re-consider, but I still wouldn’t be so sure. That’s how awesome running backs are.

So let’s look at a couple of Fantasy running backs that you’d do well to target so your Sunday mornings are filled with optimism instead of despair as you try to scramble to assemble two running backs that won’t be the laughing stock of the league.

Running Backs That Are Rising And Falling

The Risers

Marshawn Lynch, OAK

This one seems a bit unfair since Marshawn Lynch didn’t even play last year, but come on, it’s Beast Mode. Latavius Murray finished the season as the 13th best Fantasy running back last year and he missed two games. Murray is like using a driving range ball while playing a round of golf. Sure, you can play with it,  but after a while, you’ll start feeling like you’re not getting your money’s worth. More on Latavius Murray later.

We all know how good of a running back Lynch was and now he’s playing for the Raiders. And honestly, that is a positive thing. For years, going to the Raiders was pretty much a death sentence, but that’s just simply not the case anymore. They now have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and a Top 10 offense.

Backup running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are scat backs at best. The fact that they didn’t add anyone in the draft means Lynch is going to get plenty of work. I like Lynch to go for 1,000 yards and eight-plus touchdowns.

Paul Perkins, NYG

 

Paul Perkins is on this list not because of what he did, but what the Giants didn’t do. If you’re trying to draw a picture and there’s only one colored dull and short pencil in the box, you still have to use that one colored pencil, right? That’s pretty much Paul Perkins’ situation in a nutshell.

It’s not the ideal scenario for a Fantasy running back, but there are certainly worse ones out there. Perkins may be on a bit of a short leash, but the fact that he’s the guaranteed starter with very little behind him on the depth chart should make him a somewhat attractive option at running back and one that could provide a substantial return.

The Giants did draft Wayne Gallman out of Clemson in the fifth round, but as of right now Perkins is going to get first dibs on the starter’s workload. If the season were to start today, he’d be on the field for 65% of the snaps and he’d be getting 15-plus touches a game. What’s not to love about that?

Todd Gurley, LAR

Todd Gurley is on this list just to serve as a reminder of just how good of a Fantasy running back he is. Let’s not forget about how awesome he was his rookie season. Yes, he was bad last year, but that wasn’t his fault.

The Rams offense and the offensive line were pitiful. He was running against eight-man boxes all season. Now the offense is still going to be pretty bad, but it should be better just because it was so embarrassingly bad last year. Statistically speaking, it’s unheard of for an offense to be that bad two years in a row. Did you know the Rams had more punt yards than offensive yards last year? Seriously, how pathetic is that? But more importantly what are the chances that happens again?

They added Andre Whitworth at left tackle and John Sullivan at center so those two pieces should improve the offensive line quite a bit. Then you add in a new head coach in Sean McVay who ran a very successful offense in Washington and you can reasonably expect them to be better. Jeff Fisher has never been able to develop a quarterback so I expect McVay to get a lot more out of Goff than Fisher ever did.

Defenses are still going to try stopping Gurley first, but I expect Gurley to bounce back in a big way. He had less than 900 yards and six touchdowns last year and I’m predicting a 1,150-yard campaign and double digit touchdowns. He’s that great. It’s funny how quick people forget that before there was the great rookie Ezekiel Elliott, there was Todd Gurley.

Kenneth Dixon, BAL

 

Kenneth Dixon falls into a similar situation that Perkins is in. It’s not so much what he did, but what the Ravens organization didn’t do. They didn’t even draft a running back after knowing of his four-game suspension. Terrence West is very meh. I like to think of him as the ugly friend that the pretty girls keep around just to make them feel better about themselves.

And then there’s Danny Woodhead. He’s a little scary because Woodhead kills every running back’s value he’s ever played with, but he’s older now and coming off a torn ACL. Dixon came in as a rookie with a lot of promise after breaking the NCAA touchdown record and that hasn’t changed.

His suspension puts a damper on that, but that should only mean you can get him later in the draft. Dixon missed the first couple of games last year due to an injury, but when he came back he was effective. He averaged just under 4.5 yards per carry and three catches a game. He can do it all.

The Ravens like him a lot and that showed when they didn’t draft an RB. I expect him to have 600 rushing yards, five touchdowns and then add another 250 yards receiving with two touchdowns. That may not sound like a riser, but remember he’s missing the first four games and I expect it’ll take a game or two for him to reclaim that top spot.

Isaiah Crowell, CLE

Isaiah Crowell came oh so close to breaking 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns last year and there should be little doubt he’ll do both this year. First off, the Browns added JC Tretter and Kevin Zietler to their offensive line and what looked like a major weakness going into the season, now has the look of one of the best lines in the league. Between Joe Thomas, Joel Bitino, JC Tretter and Kevin Zietler, they are going to be able to win the battle up front almost every week.

Plus, how cool is it that a Cleveland Browns player is in a Fantasy Football Risers column? Especially at running back because you’d have to go back to the year 2012 which was the last time the Browns had a Top 10 Fantasy running back and that was Trent Richardson. Think about how crazy that is.

There are no other running backs in Cleveland to challenge him. Due to that, I believe Isaiah Crowell finishes as a Top 10 Fantasy running back this year. He will have more than 1,200 yards rushing and 10-plus touchdowns.

LeSean McCoy, BUF

 

If you’re wondering how LeSean McCoy can make the list of risers since he’s already one of the Top 10 running backs in the league, I’ll tell you. The Pats signed Mike Gillislee from the Bills in the off-season because that’s what the Patriots do for fun nowadays. They sign back-ups from mediocre teams and turn them into productive players just to say they can. It’s what they need to do to challenge themselves since they’ve won 14 out of the past 16 Divisional Titles.

But anyway back to why McCoy is a Fantasy Football Riser. Gillislee stole eight touchdowns from McCoy last year and had almost 600 yards rushing. Even if you factor in the second running back getting some work, stealing eight touchdowns are excessive.

Without Gillislee in Buffalo, McCoy is going to get all the red-zone touchdowns instead of just half of them That brings tremendous value. Despite Gillislee, McCoy still had over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The Bills have led the league in rushing the last two seasons and now there’s less competition behind McCoy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCoy flirt with 1,500 yards and 16-plus touchdowns. This is assuming of course that McCoy stays healthy, which has been an issue in the past.

 

The Fallers

Latavius Murray, MIN

If you were going to compare drafting Latavius Murray for Fantasy Football to buying a car the conversation would go something like this…

Seller: “So, I see you’re interested in this one, huh?”

Potential Buyer: “Well not especially, but I don’t have a lot of options.”

Seller: “Ok, I understand. Well, what do you want to know about it?”

Potential Buyer: “How’s the gas mileage on this car?”

Seller: “Honestly, it’s not that great.”

Potential Buyer: “Well that’s ok; I don’t need to go far. Tell me about the features the car has.”

Seller: “Features?”

Potential Buyer: “Yeah, you know like air conditioning, power windows, MP3 hook-up, does it have any of that?”

Seller: “Well, it doesn’t have power windows, everything is manual. The air conditioning really doesn’t work, but you can crank the windows open to get cool, so there is that.”

He finished last season as the 13th best Fantasy running back when he was playing on one of the best offenses in the league with one of the best offensive lines and a Top 10 quarterback. For the 2017 season, Murray will now be playing on one of the worst offenses in the league with one of the worst offensive lines.

Potential Buyer: “Yeah, you know what, I think I’m just going to save my money and take a bus or something.

Jonathan Stewart, CAR

 

I’d compare Jonathan Stewart to a salad; let me explain. I’m in the process of trying to eat healthier to try and get my summer figure back and so I want to love salad, but I just can’t. I can talk myself into eating one at times, but after every single salad, I still feel hungry. That’s Jonathan Stewart.

He’s only ever gone over 1,000 yards once in his career and that was in 2009. He’s only ever played a full 16 game season three times out of the nine he’s been in the league. He’s had over 900 yards only twice. He’s only ever had more than five touchdowns four times.

Stewart has been semi-effective over his career, but never really all that efficient. He’s never been someone the opposing defense is worried about Those statistics don’t garner a lot of hope right off the bat, but then you consider that the Panthers drafted the explosive Christian McCaffrey and Stewart is in trouble.

Stewart will stay on as the short yardage and red zone running back. That has value in Carolina for sure, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his yardage cut in half. With his injury concerns and simply a younger, better player on the roster, Stewart is close to being on my do not draft list.

Mark Ingram, NO

I’m not quite sure what the Saints have against Mark Ingram, I really don’t. He’s one of the few running backs that doesn’t ever have to come off the field. He’s a solid runner and a terrific pass catcher, but for some reason, the Saints disagree.

They added Adrian Peterson in the offseason and you can expect him to cut into Ingram’s workload quite a bit. And you can almost guarantee that Peterson is going to be the goal line back. He’ll be an even bigger annoyance to Ingram’s Fantasy stats than Tim Hightower was last season.

And we haven’t even mentioned Alvin Kamara, whom the Saints traded a 2018 second round draft pick to draft him in the third round. Seriously, who does that? Who trades a second round pick for a third round pick? Anyway, last year he had over 1,000 yards rushing, over 300 yards receiving and 10 total touchdowns. I can’t even begin to speculate how much those numbers are going to go down, but they’re going to go down.

Ingram still has value because I think he’s still the top dog in New Orleans, but buyers beware. Draft with caution.

Chris Ivory/TJ Yeldon, JAX

 

First off, Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon simply aren’t good. Ivory is a hard runner who has struggled to stay healthy. Yeldon is about as boring as a Friday night spent playing Hearts with your grandparents.

They were both worthy of roster spots last season because you can make an argument that any running back is worth rostering to an extent. The position is so dry that it seems an excuse can be made for anyone. You didn’t need to make up an excuse for Yeldon or Ivory though. One of them was getting 5-15 touches per game, but they just never did anything with them.

Now they’ve added Leonard Fournette as the fourth overall pick. You don’t draft a running back at fourth overall if you’re not planning on using him a lot. He’s going to be their bruising running back and he’s going to get all the work; most importantly all the goal line carries.

Lamar Miller, HOU

This may come as a bit of a surprise because the Texans signed Lamar Miller to be their workhorse and for the most part, he has been and he’s been solid. But he’s had some injury concerns and he’s missed a game here and there.

The Texans drafted D’Onta Foreman in this year’s NFL draft and he’s a big, bowling ball of a running back. I’m just guessing here, but I expect Freeman to see close to 10 carries a game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Texans employ a similar running game to the Tennessee Titans with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.

The other concern is that with Freeman’s size he could easily become the team’s goal-line running back. Miller struggled to get into the end zone last year and now they’ve added a 240 pound running back so it could actually get worse. To me, that smells like trouble.

Spencer Ware, KC

 

When Jamaal Charles went down in 2015, Spencer Ware saved the day. He made it look like the Chiefs didn’t need Jamaal Charles. Ware was given the reins to the full-time gig in 2016 where he ultimately disappointed.

Sure, he had his moments, but ultimately he didn’t follow up on the promise that he showed in 2015. The Chiefs drafted a do it all running back in this year’s draft (Kareem Hunt). He’s going to be a problem all year for Spencer Ware and his Fantasy owners.

I expect Ware to be the starter in 2017, but he’ll be on a short leash. If he struggles, Hunt will be next in line. Regardless of how Ware performs, Hunt will get enough work to lower Ware’s value.

 

There may be no other position where it is absolutely crucial to drafting well. There seems to be a shrinking number of running backs who are guaranteed to get 15 touches per game. Guys like David Johnson, LeVeon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott give their owners such an unfair advantage similar to having a bike in a foot race.

I’ve been playing Fantasy Football for over 10 years and there is no other position that seems to give me bouts of anxiety as much as running backs do. Be prepared to be a little disappointed, but with a little luck and some extra preparation maybe you can be one of those owners who can start two Top 10 running backs throughout the season.

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