Much like the rest of the MLFS Football writing staff, I will be producing fantasy rankings for the position that I’ve been covering all offseason. If you follow my work, you should know by now that I’m the resident running back guy. For me to all-of-a-sudden cover another position would be… well, it would be random.
Hey, I’m not trying to wow you with any tales of the imfamous Axl Rose or anything like that this week. Drafting season is fast approaching, and for the next six weeks you’re getting the meat and potatoes. That’s right ladies and gents, nothing but in-depth fantasy analysis from this point forward!
Don’t get me wrong, maybe I’ll sprinkle in some pop culture references and what-not, but, for the most part, it’s going to be meat and potatoes.
In part one of my series of running back rankings, we start from the bottom of the barrel. To be honest, this week’s installment will be nothing but handcuffs and backs who are very familiar with the forward pass. That’s right! The good ol’ passing-down running back will be discussed, at length!
So, here we go!
71) Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks
This is a PSA to fantasy owners everywhere! TURBIN IS NOT A MARSHAWN LYNCH HANDCUFF! I REPEAT, NOT A RUNNING BACK TO WHICH YOU START IF MARSHAWN LYNCH IS ABSENT FROM THE LINEUP!
Who is the handcuff to the man who’s only here so he won’t get fined? More on that later.
But for now, let’s discuss Robert Turbin. Turbin has been with the Seahawks for three season and has been a pass-catching, change-of-pace runner to contrast the bruising Marshawn Lynch leaves on opposing defenses.
During his three years in the Pacific Northwest, Turbin has ZERO rushing touchdowns, and has had one game in his career with 20 carries, a 58-0 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. In fact, he has carried the ball more than ten times TWICE in three years.
Week 12, 2013: 11/30/0 vs the Saints (Seahawks won 34-7)
Week 17, 2014: 11/53/0 vs the Rams (Seahawks won 20-6)
So, even when he does get a healthy workload, it’s during garbage time in a blowout. Not exactly an easy thing to predict or count on. But, what you can count on is his ability to play on passing downs.
On average, Turbin sees 2-4 targets a game. He also caught a couple of touchdown passes last season. No, the Seahawks aren’t exactly “The Greatest Show on Turf” from a passing stand-point, but there’s at least some value in a running back that sees playing time during passing downs. However minimal that time is… Hey! someone has to be ranked last!
70) Jonas Gray, New England Patriots
This running back came through in an astronomical way for your team in Week 11 last season, right in the heat of the fantasy season stretch-drive. If you had the wear withal to pick him up that week, you saw hundreds of shades of Gray (see! I told you I’d throw in some pop culture references with your meat and potatoes!). Gray ended that thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts with a stat line of 37/201/4. Hell, those are good quarterback numbers! To see that stat line from a running back is borderline unheard of.
But, much like the band Chumba Wumba, we waited for Gray’s next big hit, his follow-up to the “Tubthumping” he gave the Colts that Sunday night. Well, Gray got knocked down (the depth chart) and did not get back up again. And LeGarrette Blount is always gunna keep him down. Because when Blount showed up, Gray saw exactly 23 carries for the rest of the
season (including the Patriot’s Super Bowl run).
Plain and simple, Jonas Gray is the backup to LeGarrette Blount. He can’t really be used in a Shane Vereen-like role, he doesn’t return kicks or punts, he’s a between-the-tackles thumper on a roster that already has a pretty damn good one in Blount. The only way Gray has any value on draft day is if Blount were to miss time.
What’s that? Blount is suspended for Week 1 against the team that cut him midseason last year? Hmm… interesting. So, there’s some initial value to drafting Gray after all!
So, while Blount and his buddy Le’Veon Bell are passing a joint back-and-fourth on the couch (or wherever they decide to watch the game), Gray will more than likely assume the role of feature back for the New England Patriots at Foxboro for the big NBC Kickoff game. You can probably snag him late, plop him in the flex spot, and drop him for the next hot waiver wire pickup in between Week 1 and 2. Other than that, Gray is nothing but a little Blount insurance.
69) Trent Richardson, Oakland Raiders
Six months ago, if you had told me Trent Richardson would be fantasy-relevant again, I would have thrown a drink in your face. I’m a man who enjoys the adult beverages! Mainly for insulting my intelligence for trying to convince me that a running back who struggled to produce in one of the most advantageous offenses in professional football would ever be successful in the NFL, ever again.
Well, it’s July 12th and the Trent Richardson hype train has left the station. He actually turned some heads in Oakland during OTAs. Here’s what Oakland Raiders Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice had to say about Richardson:
“I thought the young man out of Alabama came on… He lost some weight, his quickness has really come around.” – Mike Tice told raiders.com
Yeah, yeah… sure. We here reports like this every preseason in every sport. The under-performing “star” has lost weight and is in the “best shape of his life”.
But, what if this isn’t just preseason hype? What if T-Rich finally wised-up and realized that you actually have to take care of your body at the professional level? He’s only 25-years-old
and was the top player not named Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III taken in the 2012 draft. There’s a reason why he was drafted that high. He has physical talent, or, at least, had it at one point. It really remains to be seen if he can finally deliver more than the 3.5 YPC he averaged in his only real fantasy-relevant season, his rookie year in Cleveland.
No, he probably wont steal the starting duties from Latavius Murray or even the passing-down duties from Roy Helu, but the Raiders did bring in Bill Musgrave from Philadelphia to run the offense under Jack Del Rio. Is it crazy to suggest that maybe Musgrave takes what he has learned from Chip Kelly and implements a similar attack in the Bay Area? That remains to be seen. But, what if he does? And, what if, in this high-tempo offense you see formations with both Murray and Richardson on the field? What if Richardson has a good camp and essentially becomes the Ryan Mathews of this offense? That’s probably a best-case scenario for Richardson, I mean EVERYTHING will have to go his way. But as a late-round flyer, I wouldn’t mind taking that gamble.
68) Cameron Artis-Payne, Carolina Panthers
For years, it was always frustrating to own a Carolina running back. You really had no idea who the guy was. Was it DeAngelo Williams? Was it Jonathan Stewart? Both had value, but if it was just one of those guys in the backfield, they each would have been a stud.
Well, it’s 2015 and the Panthers cut Williams in March after an injury-plagued campaign, leaving Jonathan Stewart as the feature back of the offense.
Stewart, a back that’s not exactly made of steel, is the bellcow for Ron Rivera now. When Stewart was in the lineup, he had four games of 20+ carries (playoffs included). Those backs are rare in today’s NFL.
But, as we all know, Stewart isn’t exactly the model of health. So, if you feel like taking Stewart, it would only be sensible to take his handcuff as well. That gentleman is one Cameron Artis-Payne out of Auburn. (Hey! another Cam from Auburn!)
Artis-Payne is the clear number two on the depth chart in Carolina. He is a physical, between-the-tackles runner that led the SEC in rushing in 2014 (394/2,218/19). If and when Stewart goes down, this guy could see anywhere from 10-20 carries. Lots of value there.
However, if you think that the touchdown numbers will be there, you’re sadly mistaken. Yes, when the Panthers get into the red zone, they tend to run.
Opposing 19-Yard Line-to-Goal, they ran the ball on 55% of snaps. Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert combined for 42.8% of those carries.
On opposing 10-Yard Line-to-Goal, the Panthers ran 63% of the time. But, Newton and Tolbert accounted for 52.1% of those carries.
Artis-Payne, or Jonathan Stewart for that matter, will rarely see red-zone work. Their value will be mainly limited to the first 80 yards of the field.
Still, the possibility of 20+ carries in a game is enticing. Anybody willing to draft Jonathan Stewart better get insurance in Cameron Artis-Payne.
67) Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
Yep, this is the guy. Thomas Rawls is the Seattle running back you want to handcuff Marshawn Lynch with. Not Turbin, not Christine Michael. Nope, it’s this guy. Here’s why.
Pete Carroll LOVES this guy. Rawls is a extremly physical runner that caught the attention of Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff at OTAs. The undrafted rookie free-agent posted a line of 210/1,103/10 at his senior year at Central Michigan, earning a spot on the Second-Team All-MAC. His game is very similar to Marshawn’s in the sense of being a very physical, down-hill runner.
Plus, many believe, including ESPN’s Seahawks reporter Terry Blount, that Christine Michael’s time in Seattle may be up. He has a similar skill set to Rawls, and even if his camp performance is on-par with Rawls, he could be placed on waivers, cut, or traded in favor of the younger, cheaper option as Marshawn’s backup. Not to mention that Michael only has 54 career carries to his credit in two seasons.
Also, for those in keeper/dynasty formats, Rawls is even more sexy. Both Turbin and Lynch are free agents after this season. Leaving the top spot up for grabs in 2016. Who’s to say Rawls isn’t that guy?
66) Reggie Bush, San Francisco 49ers
Yes, Reggie Bush’s career has been checkered with injuries and, for the most part, underwhelming performances. A third-down back is not what the New Orleans Saints thought the former “Heisman Trophy” winner (Heisman Trophy in quotes due to the fact it was taken from him for his family allegedly receiving a little something-something during Bush’s days at USC.) would inevitably turn out to be. At this stage of his career he is a third-down, pass-catching running back.
However, he still is pretty quick when he does see the field. He can take the ball and make things happen, given the opportunity. I mean, he still managed 40 catches on 56 targets in 2014, despite missing five games.
No, he’s not going to be the feature back or anything like that, but he could be the Gio Bernard to Carlos Hyde’s Jeremy Hill? Maybe. Here’s how.
CSN Bay Area reported that Bush and Kaepernick have really developed a rapport this offseason. Which, for 49er fans and fantasy owners is nothing but good news. The runner with the most grabs in 2014 was fullback Bruce Miller, and he only had 18.
In 2013, Kendall Hunter had 78/358/4 receiving. Is it unfair to say that Reggie Bush could come close to those receiving numbers? Provided he stays healthy, I really don’t see why not.
Throw in some rushing numbers, and all of a sudden you have a back that could easily push 700-800 all-purpose yards and 3-6 all-purpose touchdowns. Not too shabby for a late-round running back.
Oh, and did I mention that Bush told 49ers.com that he’s open to returning punts? And that he’s been working on special teams during OTAs? No? Well, he has. And, the coaching staff seems open to the idea of having Bush return punts for the first time since 2011. A little extra value for those who play in leagues that count return yards.
Bush has had at least 35 receptions in eight-of-nine NFL seasons. The only time he fell short of that mark was in 2010 with 34, missing half of the year with a broken fibula. The bottom line is, he’s going to be a vital part of the San Francisco passing game.
65) James White, New England Patriots
It’s that not-so-sweet spot between OTAs and training camps where the hype trains leave the station, and the James White hype train has officially left the station.
In 2014, that train left the station as well, only to be derailed by Bill’s running back Belitricks. White, a pass-catching running back, impressed many during his performance at OTAs and early in training camp, only to be buried on the the depth chart behind the likes of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
In 2015, White drew rave reviews similar to those given to him the year before. The Boston Herald had this to report:
“(White) looked great while lining up in all the same places (as Vereen), and turned in some spectacular catches, particularly on wheel routes coming out of the backfield.”
The Boston Herald also said that White “looked like a carbon-copy of Shane Vereen.”
Sure, we heard similar reports last preseason, but this time, as far as pass-catching running backs are concerned, White is the prime contender to be Brady’s safety blanket out of the backfield.
He does have contenders, however. Former Saint Travaris Cadet and former Brown Dion Lewis were brought in to give White some competition. From both a talent standpoint and having an extra year to soak in that complex Patriot playbook, White appears to have the inside track on the position.
No, White will never be a feature back. In fact, he never really has been. In high school, he shared a backfield with Gio Bernard and at Wisconsin he was in a time-share with Montee Ball. Can he have success as a back that can run wheel routes, catch check-downs, and pass-protect? Absolutely.
Shane Vereen had 96/391/2 rushing and 52/447/3 receiving on 77 targets in 2014. Is it wrong to think James White, given the opportunity, can come within shouting distance of those numbers? I don’t think so. I’d take a chance on White.
64) Roy Helu, Oakland Raiders
Surprise, surprise! Another pass-catching back. Shocker.
Yes, this is basically what the back-end of the running back rankings are, and always will be. Either handcuffs, boom/bust guys, or running backs who consistently give decent, but not spectacular, production.
And, that’s exactly who Roy Helu is, the ladder. They’re are few backs that consistently give the pass-catching numbers that Helu produces. If you take out 2012, where his role completely dissipated due to Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris having monster rookie seasons, here is what the average Roy Helu season looks like from a receiving stand-point:
43/359/1 on 49 targets
Solid, from a running back. If you factor in some average rushing numbers from a 3rd-down back, all of a sudden, you’re pushing 700-800 all-purpose yards and maybe five touchdowns. Not spectacular, but respectable.
Now, factor in what I said earlier in regards to the change of offense in Oakland, and you could see an up-tick in those numbers. He very well could be the Darren Sproles of this Musgrave offense, you know, minus the blazing speed. For someone who has a decent floor to begin with, he very well might be worthy of a flex spot on your roster during the bye weeks. Not a high ceiling, but the floor seems pretty high.
63) David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
“He ain’t getting S*** yet.”
Bruce Arians’ answer to a beat reporter’s question as to where Johnson would be placed on the depth chart. This isn’t to say Johnson’s role with the team is irrelevant, but he has to earn his keep with the Cardinals’ coaching staff and front office.
The Cardinals grabbed Johnson in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft out of Northern Iowa. The pick puzzled many for one reason and one reason only… He has a very similar skill-set to his new teammate Andre Ellington.
Johnson is a pass-catching running back that can make things happen in open-space who, like Ellington, has trouble running between the tackles. But according to the Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers, he looked damn good doing it.
“He looks like he belongs among the wide receiver group,” said Somers.
Yes, Arians will make Johnson earn every snap he plays. Could this mean that if he out-performs the oft injured Ellington, he could take his job?
Ellington averaged 19.75 carries/game from weeks 3-10 last season and from weeks one through 11, he averaged 5.8 targets a game. If Ellington were to go down, or lose the job outright, there is major value for a back that is, according to most reports, a bigger, younger version of Ellington.
Even if he is firmly behind Ellington come week one, he may still have value. According to ESPN Cardinal reporter Josh Weinfuss, Johnson could see work as the Cardinals’ goal-line back. That’s pretty juicy considering that when the Cardinals were between their opponent’s 10 yard-line and goal line they ran the ball 51.2% of the time.
The Cardinals have a backfield that every fantasy owner needs to monitor closely this August. Johnson could surprise many.
62) Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
To put things plainly, Riddick is a wide receiver masquerading as a running back.
The minute the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah, all dreams of Theo Riddick being the lightening to Joique Bell’s *ahem* thunder died. Abdullah will be the quick, pass-catching running back that Reggie Bush was last season, and will do a damn fine job in that role.
That being said, the Lions appear open to the idea of Riddick competing with Lance Moore and Brody Croyle to be the Lions’ slot receiver.
Riddick is more physically gifted than both of his competitors and, let’s face it, much more versatile.
Here are Riddick’s career rushing numbers: 29/76/1
Pretty underwhelming, right?
What about his receiving totals?
38/342/4 on 58 targets.
Not too shabby for a guy who was the third running back on the depth chart two years in a row.
Let’s face it, with opposing defenses having to account for Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Ameer Abdullah, Riddick could find some room to operate and become a deadly weapon in the slot. Plus, he could get a few jet-sweep type runs. Basically, if all goes well, Riddick could be a speedy slot receiver who can run a little. Good value there.
61) Lance Dunbar, Dallas Cowboys
Before I get into Dunbar, let me make my stance perfectly clear in regards to the Dallas offensive line.
Pretty good, not the best. Nothing historic, or the type of unit that can turn guys like me and you into backs that grab 3 YPC.
There. Now, onto Dunbar.
Dunbar is the pass-catching, third-down running back in this running back-by-committee the Cowboys have conjured up for 2015. He’s quick, shifty, and is the leading candidate to scoop up the lion’s share of the 64 backfield targets DeMarco Murray got last season.
He does have competition, though. Not only will Joesph Randle and Darren McFadden be major cogs in this committee, but the Cowboys also brought in Ryan Williams to compete with Dunbar for that passing-down role.
Personally, Williams doesn’t scare me. In fact, I think he will be cut as soon as the Cowboys’ brass remembers that Dunbar is the superior back. Hell, McFadden isn’t exactly Adrian Peterson himself and Randle is just as un-proven as Dunbar. There’s a puncher’s chance that maybe Dunbar impresses during camp, takes this job, and runs away with it. Would I lay cash on that happening? Probably not. But, there’s more than a slim chance that happens. Why not take that gamble?
Alright, that does it for this week’s installment of running back rankings. Tune-in next week, as I bring you running backs 60-49.
Until next week, cheers!
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