Ladies and gents! It’s almost here!
With training camps now underway, week one will shortly follow. The long wait will finally be over. If you’re like me, you probably have been jonesing for NFL football since mid February. I
mean, NCAA March Madness, NHL and NBA playoffs, and baseball are nice appetizers (and being a proud Canadian and Blue Jay supporter, I’m ecstatic about the magic the Toronto front office was able to pull-off this week. Welcome, Tulo and David Price!), but we all know the NFL is the main course when it comes to the five-course meal that is professional sports. To see training camp finally be underway is a more than welcoming sight.
As I sit here writing this, we have only six Sundays until that first full-slate of glory. My friends, there is a light at the end of this tunnel!
But for now, I will give you the latest installment of my running back rankings. This week, we enter RB2 territory. These guys, for obvious reasons, need to be rostered and could end up occupying that second RB slot in your lineup. Or at the very least, the FLEX slot.
Here are the running backs that I have previously ranked:
Alright, now for Part 4.
36) Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles
I discussed Mathews in my offseason piece back in June. Mathews is a guy that would be a very solid RB2 if he was the lead back. However, sitting behind DeMarco Murray will hinder his fantasy impact… but not as much as you may think.
Due to the high-tempo offense that Chip Kelly likes to run, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mathews get 10-12 carries a game. They run more plays per game than any other club and Mathews will need to shoulder some of the load in order to keep Murray fresh for 16 games.
For someone with a checkered injury history like Mathews, less might be more. Being healthy and seeing 10-12 carries per game over the course of 16 games is better than 15 or so per game in six games. He has only been healthy for a full season once in his career. Hopefully, a reduced role will be good for the longevity of his career.
Also, for what it’s worth, both the Philadelphia Enquirer and Daily News report that Mathews was returning kicks during minicamp.
35) Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
I am a fan of this guy’s story. An undrafted running back out of nearby Wayne State, he worked security at Ford Field for Lions home games. He then worked his way onto the roster and beat-out “former Heisman Trophy winner” Reggie Bush for the vast majority of carries last season. Now, Bush was hurt quite a bit last season, but the Lions still trusted Bell enough to carry the ball 223 times in 2014.
Yes, a high-volume of carries is good for any back to stay fantasy relevant. However, at the end of the season, it’s what you do with the opportunity that separates the mediocre ball carriers from the ones that take you to championships. And Bell is just that. Mediocre.
His last two season, he has averaged exactly 3.5 yards/carry. He is slow and coming into camp with Achilles and knee problems. I really believe that his opportunity in the Motor City came due to the fact that once Bush went down, they really had nobody else who could be that between the tackles runner.
The Detroit running back you really want to roster is Ameer Abdullah (more on him later). He will, more than likely, start off as the passing down back/change-of-pace guy, and his role will only grow from there. Abdullah has lightening-quick speed and tons of ability, something that Bell does not possess. Despite many local beat reporters saying he’s “the guy”, I just don’t buy it. I see him getting into short-yardage situations and goal-line carries, which is valuable, but I don’t think we will ever see 200+ carries from Joique Bell again.
34) Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
Some of you may wonder why I am this low on a guy who would appear to be the favorite to begin the year as the starter. The reason is simple. I am not willing to invest in a 30-year-old running back who has never played a full 16 game season in his career.
He has already shown a decline in production as he went from a 163/733/6 line in 2013 with the Raiders to 167/639/4 in his first season with the Giants. 3.8 YPC is not exactly anything to be jumping for joy about.
He will more than likely be drafted as “the guy”, but don’t be fooled. Shane Vereen and Andre Williams are also in the fold. I am a strong believer in Vereen this year and I believe that he should have a firm grasp of the starting role sooner rather than later.
33) Gio Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
As far as passing-down running backs in supplementary roles go, Bernard is one of the best. No, he won’t be “the guy”, but he does a lot with the little playing time he sees. Throughout the second half of 2014 (week eight and beyond), he had an average line of 10.7/39.85/0.14 with 3/24.57/0.28 on 3.57 targets per game. I took the second-half lines because I believe that Jeremy Hill will take the majority of the snaps after the monster second half he had in 2014.
60-70 all-purpose yards with the occasional touchdown is what you can expect from Bernard week in, week out. No, he isn’t the feature back, but he still has value in his current role.
32) Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions
Abdullah “The Butcher” is a back who has tremendous upside. He’s agile and exhibits above average pass-catching ability that should play very well on the speedy turf at Ford Field. He will start off as the passing-down, lightening to Bell’s thunder, but I think he could end the season as
the Lions’ feature running back. I wrote about Abdullah in my debut piece back in June and since then, I have been a huge fan.
With Joique Bell nursing a number of ailments, Abdullah has been getting a great deal of first-team reps in camp. Every report I have read from Detroit beat reporters suggest that he is making the most of his opportunity.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press shared the same sentiments as me in regards to Abdullah’s potential to outright steal the job from Bell.
“The job will be Abdullah’s before long,” said Birkett.
Whether Bell begins the season healthy or not, Abdullah is the Detroit running back to target.
31) Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Now, the running back situation in Cleveland is a bit of a quagmire of sorts. The Browns have gone on record to say that they will “ride the hot hand” when it comes to choosing a starter. It will be interesting to see which of Crowell, West, and rookie Duke Johnson take charge and “take the money and run”, so to speak. From a pure talent standpoint, I love Johnson. The kid is quick, can handle himself in the passing game, and has the most raw ability among the group. However, its been West and Crowell who have been sharing first-team reps in training camp thus far.
Both West and Crowell showed flashes of brilliance in 2014. However, they both also underwhelmed at times too. Crowell even lost playing time in Oct. of last season for his issues with ball security.
For fantasy purposes, Crowell will be the back with the biggest fantasy impact starting out the season and is more than likely the starter for Week 1. He profiles as more of a bruiser than the other two and his eight touchdowns (half of which came in goal-to-go situations) are proof of his goal-line prowess. At the very least, he will be the touchdown vulture in Cleveland. The rest is gravy. You’ll see the second-year back out of Alabama State leap into the dawg pound more than a few times this season.
30) Chris Ivory, New York Jets.
Oh, what could have been.
Imagine the season Ivory would have had in 2014 if the Jets didn’t go out and sign Chris Johnson. Johnson needlessly siphoned a great deal of carries from Ivory early on last season, and Ivory still ended the year with 198/820/6.
In 2015, I believe that the opposite could happen for Ivory and his playing time. Early on, he should beat out Zac Stacy and Bilal Powell for the lion’s share of Jet carries. But once Stevan Ridley comes back fully healthy, he could cut into Ivory’s workload.
If his 2014 touchdown numbers are any indication, he should be getting most of the goal-line work. Five of his six touchdowns came within ten yards of paydirt. Powell may get some goal-line work here or there as well, but Ivory should get most scoring opportunities.
With limited competition early on, Ivory could very well take this job and run.
29) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a monster breakout rookie year in 2012, the artist formally know as “The Muscle Hamster” has been underwhelming. He went from 4.6 YPC in 2012 to 3.7 in 2014.
Maybe, and this is just me speculating, but maybe, he came into the league, tore things up and took the little things such as training and practice for granted. Maybe, he thought this league was too easy and didn’t work to maintain his ability.
Or, maybe, it was all mental? After a slow start in 2013, he tore a labrum in his shoulder and missed the final ten games of that season. He also missed five games in 2014 with various ailments.
Either way, I believe Martin is due for a bounce-back. Multiple reports suggest that he has been working his tail off this offseason. He even earned his way into first-team reps during OTAs. Martin, in the final year of his rookie deal, is a man on a mission with something to prove. He’s just 26, and the talent he displayed in his rookie year doesn’t just go away into thin air.
His situation in Tampa Bay does present a bit of an advantage. New OC Dirk Koetter will implement an offense that will be similar to the one he ran in Atlanta from 2012-2014 (and I mean, they will throw, throw, throw). During that time, he had Michael Turner and Steven Jackson, both of which put up the following lines:
Michael Turner, 2012: 222/800/10
Steven Jackson, 2013: 157/543/6
Steven Jackson, 2014: 190/707/6
It also should be taken into consideration that both Turner and Jackson were in their twilight years and not nearly as spry as they were at age 26, which is Martin’s current age.
28) LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
His stock might be down on draft day due to his suspension for a failed drug test, but it’s only for the opener. Missing one game won’t damage his production too badly.
He reportedly showed up to camp out of shape, failed a conditioning test, and was subsequently placed on the active/NFI list. Again, another reason his stock will fall.
Perpetual off the field issues and initially negative reports early in camp will deter most from taking a chance on Blount, but not I. Blount is the type of back that will always find work, and in the chameleon that is a Belichick offense, there will be some games where Blount is ran into the ground.
The Patriots, on both sides of the ball, like to change their game plan. They never have a true identity, because they change their game plan to exploit a weakness of the opposition. On weeks where they face a team that cannot handle the power run game, Blount is a must-start. He will have a few monster games this season, but for the rest of the time, he will be a 10/40 guy who might reach the end-zone, and hat alone is worth a roster spot. Don’t let the negativity surrounding him fool you, he has value.
27) C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints
I touched on Spiller earlier in the offseason, and I really think he couldn’t have landed in a much better situation than New Orleans. With Pierre Thomas no longer with the club, Spiller assumes the role of the pass-catching running back in an offense that throws check-downs more often than any other team in the NFL. Spiller is a more physically-gifted runner than Thomas and he has track speed that will be really fun to watch on the fast track of the Superdome.
He has shown success in the receiving game before. In his career year in 2012, he had 43/459/2 on 57 targets. Since 2012, Thomas has had no fewer than 53 targets in a season, including a whopping 84 in 2013. Spiller may not get the carries he got in Buffalo, but the receiving numbers alone are enticing. Mix in ten or so carries per game, and you have a very solid option at the FLEX in your lineup.
26) Shane Vereen, New York Giants
I am fully on board the Vereen bandwagon. He reportedly had a phenomenal showing at OTAs this May. A back that specializes in pass-catching and pass-protection, in an offense that threw
58% of the time last season, will find ample amounts of playing time. In this quick-paced, West-Coast offense Ben McAdoo runs in the Meadowlands, Vereen will be a significant asset. He may even work his way into a full-time role if 30-year-old and often injured Rashad Jennings doesn’t pan-out.
Vereen may not physically excel at any of the measureables, but he does a little bit of everything well. The opportunity is there to put up the fantasy numbers. Let’s watch and see.
25) Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Lamar Miller is quick. Most football fans know this, but is he a feature back?
I wouldn’t bet on it. In his career, he has seen 20+ carries just once and more than 15 carries only eight times in three years. He is quick and is a talented scat-back, but he just isn’t the guy who can grind down the clock, pound the rock from short yardage, or anything to that extent.
He did have a good year last season as 216/1,099/8 is nothing to shake a stick at. A lot of his production came once Knowshown Moreno went down for the year early in the season. He’s really talented in a limited role. With rookie Jay Ajayi in the fold to take on the short-yardage/grinding duties, you can expect similar numbers from Miller.
On a week-to-week basis, he should get 13-15 carries, and at a career 4.6 YPC, that has good value.
Well, that’s it for me this week! Until next time, peace out!
@stromme93 on the Twitter machine.
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.