Prior to the draft, the 2016 running back draft class had the same underwhelming feel to it as Alien vs. Predator. The actual tagline for this film was, “No matter who wins, we lose.” At the time, we didn’t realize the loser in this scenario was in fact the audience.
Unlike Alien v Predator, I’m walking away from this year’s draft with some excitement, especially when it comes to the running back position. The level of turnover for NFL running backs has never been higher and the results from this year’s draft suggest that trend will continue.
This year’s draft saw 23 running backs taken, similar to year’s past; 22 in 2015, 22 in 2014, 26 in 2013, 21 in 2012. Last season, roughly 64 percent (14 of the 22) of the backs selected had some level of Fantasy relevance, whether it was starting level production or handcuff speculation. The same can be said for half of the 2014 running back class where 11 of the 22 backs selected were either playing or on the Fantasy radar during the year.
The lesson here, let’s pay attention to at least a hand full of running backs we may have been quick to assume have little Fantasy relevance for 2016.
In addition to the players drafted, let’s take a look at some of the veterans or situations impacted by this year’s draft as we give you our way too early winners and losers breakdown.
Last year, there were eight RBs taken in the first three rounds. Tevin Coleman was the only one not to lead team in carries or fantasy pts.
— Scott Barrett (@DudeFantasyBro) April 30, 2016
Winners & Losers: Running Back
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
This is an easy one. Last season the Dallas Cowboys had the ninth most rushing yards and fifth best yards per carry average in the NFL. Because of this, it makes no sense whatsoever for the Cowboys to draft a running back, but draft a running back they did. Ezekiel Elliott is not only an outstanding runner, he’s excellent in pass protection which will enable him to stay on the field for all three downs.
Elliott is without question your 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite right now. He’s also without question the player whose draft outfit, or lack thereof, made me simultaneously impressed and uncomfortable.
Paul Perkins, New York Giants
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 30, 2016
Three years from now, we’re going to question how the %*&# Paul Perkins lasted until the fifth round in this draft. Perkins reminds me a bit of Ahmad Bradshaw in that he has average top end speed but plays quick, utilizing his elusiveness. There’s virtually zero competition on this Giants roster other than 31-year-old Rashad Jennings, who is 31 years old and is going into his 31 year old season. Rashad Jennings is old.
Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
There’s a whooooollle lotta rumble coming to the Rockies!
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 30, 2016
Booker finds himself in a Gary Kubiak offense known for turning water into wine at the running back position. Last season, Ronnie Hillman rushed for almost 900 yards with seven touchdowns and the team had almost no interest in re-signing him, eventually signing him to a one year $2 million contract in April.
Booker can pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield, so combine that with the unbreakable duo of C.J. Anderson and Hillman standing in his way and Booker should have Fantasy relevance in 2016.
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens had a putrid rushing attack last season, ranking 25th in attempts, 26th in yards and 21st in rushing touchdowns. Justin Forsett and Buck Allen filled in serviceably but Dixon has more talent than both combined. Given his ability to catch the ball, it will be difficult for Allen to outshine Dixon in any one area and by the halfway point, Dixon could have the bulk of the carries to himself.
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLfantasy) April 30, 2016
Let’s use what we know in evaluating this situation:
- John Fox is the coach of the Bears
- John Fox loves to run the football
- John Fox has a history of using two running backs in his offense
- The Bears pushed hard to sign C.J. Anderson in the offseason
- Jeremy Langford weighs less than 210 lbs
- Jeremy Langford averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2015
Regardless of what you personally think of Howard, the facts strongly suggests he’s going to have a legitimate role in this offense. Howard is big back and weighing in at 230 lbs, he has the ability to gain yards after contact, which is something Langford struggled with last season. The opportunity is there for Howard to be the primary back on first and second downs next year.
DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders
Washington was one of my favorite picks of this year’s draft from a pure football sense. Oakland spent the majority of the offseason bolstering their defense and attempting to convince their owner he needs a new haircut but had done little to help evolve or diversify their young offense.
Enter Washington who finished his college career with over 1,000 receiving yards and should provide Oakland with a much needed receiving threat out of the backfield. Latavius Murray’s 41 receptions may stand out to you, but the 5.7 yards per reception is more telling of his effectiveness in this role.
Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles
Ladies and Gentleman, your starting running back for the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan Mathews. Unless you are of the belief that Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner or Mr. Wendell Smallwood is going to supplant Mathews, he just became one of the best 2016 Fantasy Football draft values. (Side note: Google “Ryan Mathews Instagram”)
Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
Twitter scratched it’s collective head as the Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake ahead of some of the more notable backs in this year’s draft but while that was taking place, Ajayi owners summoned their inner Jersey Shore and collectively fist pumped.
Personally, I’m a believer in Drake’s potential (especially behind what should be an improved and more relaxed offensive line thanks to newly aquired Laremy Tunsil) and think he could be much more productive than the consensus. But even if Drake shines, Ajayi brings a dimension to the offense that he doesn’t. They have complimentary running styles, skill sets and realistically could both find productive roles by season’s end.
If Ajayi’s knee doesn’t fall apart faster than Mike Mayock when someone asks him about “the marijuana,” he’ll likely receive at least half the team’s carries next season. (If you’re not sold on Kenyan Drake, check out some of his highlights on YouTube. He cuts harder than Drake’s lyrics. Ehhhhh? Ehhhhh?)
Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon was a Christina Hendricks level bust last season but he has no competition whatsoever. Let the busting continue!
Isaiah Crowell & Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
New Browns coach, Hue Jackson, brings one constant to the table, running the football. We’ve seen what a Robert Griffin offense can do for someone like Alfred Morris and we’ve seen Hue Jackson feed the rock to RBs repeatedly. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson just became a less talented version of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
The Lions said goodbye to Calvin Johnson, drafted three offensive lineman in the first five rounds and waited until the seventh round to draft a running back. It looks to me as if Jim Bob Cooter plans on displaying his newly waxed version of last season’s offense with Abdullah being inserted as the primary mechanism to stimulate performance.
Darren McFadden & Alfred Morris, Dallas Cowboys
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
We’re all going to have to lower Anderson in our Fantasy Football ranks after the selection of Devontae Booker. Anderson managed to accumulate just over 150 carries last season and visions of a 200-plus carry season likely just became unrealistic with both Booker and Hillman to compete with. Anderson comes into the season as the starter and primary back but Booker is a better fit for this offense than Hillman, who saw his fair share of touches.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks had a somewhat confusing draft, especially for Thomas Rawls believers. Seattle drafted two of the top running back prospects in C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins. The Collins pick I can understand, as he was on the board later than expected and conceivably was a value pick. Classic Seahawks!
The Prosise selection, however, is reason for pause. Prosise is a converted wide receiver with play making ability, but also isn’t afraid to run between the tackles. His ceiling compares to that of Buffalo all time fan favorite Fred Jackson in his prime, who since has been cut and completely forgotten about in lowly Buffalo. Wings though!
The fear here is that Prosise immediately becomes the best passing down option for Seattle and with Russell Wilson’s scrambling ability, a running back who can catch the ball and improvise will likely do well. I’m not ready to declare Rawls as a No. 2 RB just yet, but he has fallen down a tier in my rankings.
Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears
Langford likely finds himself in a passing downs role for the Bears. His Fantasy Football production was solid for owners last season, but his on the field efficiency was lacking. Langford is still worthy of drafting in Fantasy, but it will most likely be a savvy move to pair him with newly drafted beast of a man, Jordan Howard. (Be on the ready for crying Jordan Howard memes after his first fumble in a Chicago Bears uniform).
Javorius “Buck” Allen & Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
The current status of the Baltimore Ravens running back depth chart: Kenneth Dixon, Buck Allen, Justin Forsett, Terrance West, Trent Richardson, Lorenzo Taliaferro. I believe Dixon emerges as the lead back for Baltimore, leaving the committee work to be split between Allen, Forsett and Richardson. Baltimore had a strange draft, a strange offseason, strange uniforms and a very strange quarterback.
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