When looking at the running back landscape for 2016, it’s tough to find running backs that will receive the majority of the work for their respective teams.
While you can look at rankings and depth charts, those don’t give the full picture of what those players will accomplish during the season.
Even if you look at statistics, know that statistics can lie. Karlos Williams finished the season as a Top 40 running back in terms of fantasy points (with PPR scoring). These numbers were inflated by the nine touchdowns he’s scored, but touchdowns are never a guarantee.
While it’s true that nothing is a guarantee in fantasy football, let’s take a look at running backs who will likely be on the field for all three downs. These guys aren’t going to get stuck in a timeshare situation, and they will receive the majority of the work.
They are rare nowadays, but they should absolutely be targeted in drafts. Here are the top three-down running backs for 2016:
Three-down Running Backs to Target
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Arguably the top back off the board in 2016, Peterson has the least concerns surrounding his position. He isn’t coming off an injury in 2015.
He really doesn’t have anyone else on the roster that is going to compete for carries. Jerrick McKinnon is his handcuff, but McKinnon isn’t going to steal work.
Peterson has kept in shape, has bounced back from injury (following the 2013 season), and is a focal point of the Vikings offense. He had the second-most fantasy points among running backs in 2015. He has double-digit touchdowns and at least 225 touches in every season he’s played (excluding the one-game 2014 season).
Among all three-down backs, Peterson is the safest draft pick.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell ranks higher on the list than other running backs who are also coming off injury because he is only 24. While he did have major knee surgery in the offseason following MCL and PCL injuries, he should bounce back and become the player he was before injury.
He is on track to play Week 1, which is all fantasy owners need to know. If the Steelers deem him healthy enough to play, fantasy owners should know that he will be on the field for as many downs as he can handle.
In 2014, he had 290 carries and 83 receptions over a full season. In 2015, in just six games, he had 113 carries and 24 receptions.
Extrapolating those numbers out for a full season gives him over 300 carries and an additional 64 receptions. The Steelers do still have DeAngelo Williams behind him on the depth chart, but Williams will likely only be used to come in when needed for Bell. As long as Bell continues to stay on track to return, draft him and trust him in your lineup.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
In 13 games in 2015, Gurley had 229 carries and 21 receptions.
He’s expected to not only be the focal point of the Rams offense (with rookie quarterback Jared Goff at the helm and the top wideout as Tavon Austin, who else is going to lead the offense?) but carry the load as often as possible. Now even further removed from knee surgery, and with almost a full year of NFL experience behind him, expect Gurley to be on the field for most downs.
Unfortunately for him, defenses are going to stack the box because it’s clear what the Rams game plan will be, but Gurley and the Rams will likely create plays to work around defenses.
While Gurley did experience a little bit of a drop-off toward the end of 2015, he is still a three-down back with only Benny Cunningham and Tre Mason behind him on the depth chart.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
.@millertime_6 wants to do more than just carry the ball in 2016.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) June 2, 2016
While Miller only received 194 carries in 2015, he did have 47 receptions, totaling 241 touches. In 2014, he had 216 carries and 38 receptions (254 touches).
However, he is no longer with the Miami Dolphins, and he is with the Texans, who have a run-first offense. With Alfred Blue behind him, Miller is not going to lose work to any other running back. He’ll get the majority of the touches, and the Texans have already said they even want him to be involved in the passing game.
It’s unfair to compare Miller to Arian Foster, but looking at Foster’s 2014 workload is promising for Miller. Granted, there is different coaching staff and different players, but in 13 games, Foster had nearly 300 touches. That’s the kind of workload that fantasy owners should expect from Miller in 2016.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
McCoy is considered a three-down back because he does get the majority of the work (when healthy) in Buffalo. Karlos Williams is a goal-line back, so McCoy will lose the touchdowns to him, but the touches will be there for McCoy.
In 2012, he had 203 carries and 32 receptions, but that was only in 12 games. He had over 300 carries in both 2013 and 2014 while in Philadelphia.
He’s certainly capable of being a three-down back, but he has battled ankle and hamstring injuries that have forced him to miss time. The concern with McCoy is just that: the ability to stay on the field. While it is possible Williams may come in to spell him from time to time, McCoy, when healthy, is a top tier running back.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries aside, Charles is a clear-cut three-down running back. However, with two major knee surgeries since 2011, and turning 30 within the season, Charles is a risk.
Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were able to carry the load after Charles went down in 2015, and did a solid job with it.
It does seem likely that the Chiefs will try to limit the work of their star running back, at least at the beginning of the season as he eases into the game again.
Charles will be the main running back, but expect to see West and Ware mixed in.
Charles doesn’t have a 300-rush season, but he did have 300 total touches in both 2012 and 2013 (the two years following his first ACL surgery). Keep expectations low. He likely won’t have 300 touches in 2016, but he still makes the list as a three-down back.
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