The quarterback and wide receiver starting spots are virtually locked up, so the position battles to watch out for in the NFC South are among those guys who run the football.
This division has quite a list of characters at the running back position: younger players who have underperformed, veterans who struggle to stay healthy and backs Fantasy players would be offended to even consider drafting. The NFC South only produced one Top 20 back in 2014, and you aren’t going to find the studs and exciting options of the NFC West.
What you will find, however, are some running backs other Fantasy players may avoid. It’s not a comfortable proposition to draft a running back who is unproven or doesn’t have a clear-cut role, but identifying the right opportunities before your draft is how you take down a Fantasy Football championship at the end of your season.
Watching news from training camps and observing how the preseason shakes out will help to clarify roles, but we may still be left with a few position battles that call for you to roll the dice.
Here are the running back position battles you will want to keep an eye on in the NFC South.
Running Back Position Battles
Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman vs. Tevin Coleman
#Falcons Coach Dan Quinn said Devonta Freeman will be “featured in a lot of different ways,” including as a receiving option.
— Gridiron Experts (@GridironExperts) June 19, 2015
In Atlanta, we have not seen a 1,000-yard rusher since the glory days of Michael “The Burner” Turner. The position battle is currently murky between second-year back Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman, so who is worth adding to your 2015 Fantasy Football roster?
ESPN Staff Writer Vaugh McClure highlights some of the success of pass-catching backs under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and that would seem to give the edge to Freeman. You shouldn’t expect Freeman to blaze past opponents with a 4.58 40-yard dash time, and he won’t plow through defenders like Marshawn Lynch with his 5-foot-8 frame. Some coordinators and coaches can be rigid in their approaches, but Shanahan understands how to utilize his dual-threat options and knows what he has with Freeman.
Coleman has better jets than Freeman and looks like he was fired out of a cannon when he gets going, but his draft profile questions his patience and creativity. He was serviceable in the passing attack with 25 receptions for 141 receiving yards in his final college season, and is ADP suggests he is the favored back among Fantasy players.
Freeman currently has an ADP in Round 9 on FantasyFootballCalculator.com, so that’s not a high price tag to find out what he can produce. You can find Coleman in Round 6, which isn’t too hefty, but you are also passing on Giovani Bernard around that same spot. Antone Smith is also in the mix for Atlanta, so there is a lot to watch out for in the Falcons’ backfield.
Selecting Freeman or Coleman will come down to how much you expect Shanahan to use a committee approach, and if you believe one player can step up over the other to become a featured piece in the offense.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram vs. C.J. Spiller
Mark Ingram racked up 143 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season in 2014, but sat out due to a hand injury until Week 7. Despite missing action, Ingram finished the season with an impressive 964 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He also rushed for 100 or more yards in four games, and he had a monster performance in Week 8 with 172 rushing yards.
You can read here why I think Spiller will be an important piece in the offense, but the Saints need to find a replacement for the lost receiving yards of Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.
Fantasy players are obviously hesitant to buy into another year of Spiller, but his ADP is on the rise. The graph below indicates the rise of Spiller, as well as a subtle decline in the stock of Ingram.
Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Stewart vs. Cameron Artis-Payne
— Jonathan Stewart (@Jonathanstewar1) June 16, 2015
DeAngelo Williams is now in Pittsburgh, which should allow Fantasy players targeting Stewart to feel a little more breathing room. Stewart started an impressive campaign in Week 13, and closed off the season with an average of 97.2 rushing yards per performance in his final five games. Fantasy players are obviously excited to see what Stewart can do without Williams cutting into his time.
Of course, you also have the realization that Stewart has not completed a 16-game season since 2011. I’m not a huge fan of handcuffing players just for the sake of it, but I think Stewart owners need to invest in Cameron Artis-Payne. If you are placing a bet that Stewart won’t finish the entire season, you may also want to add Artis-Payne to your roster even if you don’t own a share in Stewart.
The rookie back piled on 1,608 in his final college season with Auburn and totaled 13 rushing touchdowns. With defenses trying to contain Cam Newton’s rushing abilities, Artis-Payne finds himself in an inviting situation. Stewart has to struggle for Artis-Payne to achieve Fantasy relevancy, so make sure you don’t plan to rely on the rookie too heavily as a sleeper to save your team if things go awry for your starting running backs.
Stewart has the nod as the starter, but don’t be afraid to own a share in Artis-Payne.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin vs. Charles Sims
It pains me to admit that I’m buying into Martin this season. No, not as a Top 10 option, but as a guy who could supply decent results from week to week.
It seems like I covered a bunch of content on NFC South players for some reason, so I have a profile on Martin heading into 2015. I like the fact that new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter pushed for Martin to stay, and I think Koetter can help highlight Martin’s skill set with a larger role in the passing attack. It’s logical to expect rookie quarterback Jameis Winston to look for a few dump offs when the quarterback faces a little heat, and Martin can help pad his Fantasy stats in PPR leagues because of it.
As a WVU fan, it was fun watching Sims in college, and I couldn’t wait to see what he could do at the next level. An ankle injury prevented Sims from seeing action until Week 10, however, and he didn’t do much to bolster the dismal offense when he did touch the ball. Sims could still come out and surprise Fantasy players, but I’m rolling with Martin because Koetter fought for him.
Martin probably crushed your Fantasy dreams as an early-round pick in previous seasons, but he can’t hurt you with an ADP of 8.01 on FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Sims has an ADP of 8.10, however, so you won’t be able to own both to find out who has the most Fantasy value. This looks like a case where you can take advantage of a few grudges to get a nice deal in your 2015 Fantasy Football Draft.
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