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NFL Fantasy: Five running backs to think twice about before drafting

New teammates, new offensive schemes, bad offensive lines, and Father Time have me thinking twice about these running backs on draft day.


Draft day is rapidly approaching and every fantasy player is searching for that bit of information destined to propel him to the top of his league standings. 

Mock drafts and early drafts are already providing data on average-draft-position (ADP). As always, we see several instances where owners are buying the hype and drafting certain players too early. 

These five running backs are worthy of roster spots. However, they are risky picks at their current ADP. Your early rounds should be spent on other resources. If any of these players are available as a late-second or third position player, grab them. 

But if you jump on them early, don’t say you weren’t warned. 

1. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland (ADP- RB13)

Without a doubt, this is the most over-hyped acquisition of the year. It’s a nice story and it will be a tremendous one if Lynch comes out of retirement to lead his hometown team to the Promised Land. 

But let’s not forget, he’s coming out of retirement. No one knows what kind of shape he is in. It’s not like he was making the rounds trying to find a way back into the league. What was he doing during his time away? Is he in running shape or Beast Mode condition? 

Lynch only gained 3.8 yards per carry in his last full season. Despite opinions to the contrary, he will not garner the 260 carries needed to gain 1,000 yards at that rate. Oakland’s 2016 running-back-by-committee was not because Latavius Murray is a lesser back. It is a design of the Raiders’ system. 

One runner carried the ball for 65% of the teams carries three times last year- fourth lowest in the league. The other two-thirds of that committee- Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington- will continue to share the load with Lynch, holding down his fantasy value.  

2. Jordan Howard, Chicago (ADP- RB7)

How can anyone not expect last year’s second placed rusher to be worth an RB7 pick? Well, let’s just say a lot has changed in Chicago since Jordan Howard’s stellar debut. 

Although Howard proved to be the only reliable weapon Chicago had, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Miller, and Jay Cutler provided enough of a passing game last year to distract defenses. The 2017 version of the Bears, with Mike Glennon throwing to Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Cameron Meredith will have defenses daring Howard to run.

What might that look like? Howard ran for 72 yards on 12 carries in the first half against the Giants last season. Jeffery was injured and Zach Miller went down just before halftime. The Giants went all-in to stop the rush, holding Howard to five more yards the rest of the game. That was with Jay Cutler throwing the ball, not Glennon or a rookie.

If that’s not enough to worry you about using an RB7 pick, remember that a healthy Jeremy Langford will probably take over on passing downs this season. 

3. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans (ADP- RB8)

DeMarco Murray is going to have another decent season if he stays healthy, but he does have a few things working against him. For one, there is the health thing. With 1,000+ touches over the past three years, Murray is at risk of a breakdown.

Promising sophomore Derrick Henry looks ready to take a bite out of Murray’s carries this season, but that is not the biggest warning flag on Murray’s fantasy potential. 

The excitement in Tennessee is all about their newly drafted wide receivers Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis, as well as the arrival of veteran red zone threat Eric Decker. The consistent Rishard Matthews also returns along with a healthy and quick-looking Delanie Walker. 

“We will catch the ball. No more excuses” says offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. The implication being that last year’s run-heavy scheme was more out of necessity than desire. 

So, to recap, Murray can be expected to see a lower percentage of touches in a running game with a lower percentage of plays. It may extend his career while also dropping his fantasy value. 

4. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins (ADP- RB6)

Dolphins’ coach Adam Gase is on record as saying Jay Ajayi will be more than a starter. He will be a featured back and could be a dark horse to lead the league in rushing. Gase said Ajayi will get involved in the passing game and could see 350 touches in 2017. His excitement is based on Ajayi’s 1,278 yards and 4.9 yards per carry last season, but that performance was an illusion. 

Ajayi had three games with over 200 yards last year, two of them against the Bills. Over the rest of the season, Gase’s new featured back averaged 49 yards per game at a 3.7 yards per carry clip. That includes a 111-yard effort against the Jets. 

Then Ryan Tannehill went down and Jay Cutler entered the picture. Coach Gase is enamored with Jay Cutler. While 350 running back touches was a good idea to limit exposure to Tannehill’s bad knee and suspect skill set, there is no reason to expect Miami’s offense not to swing back to a pass-first mode with Cutler behind center. 

To further complicate things, the Dolphins have two very good pass-catching backs behind Ajayi. Damien Williams or Kenyan Drake will be the passing down back before too many games pass. 

5. Paul Perkins, New York Giants (ADP- RB28)

Moving well down on the list, we find Paul Perkins. His ADP makes him an RB3 on most teams, but we see him mentioned frequently among potential late-round value picks. I don’t see it. 

The thinking is that Perkins was named the starting running back for a windy stadium team with an aging quarterback in a traditionally bruising division. That is a stretch at best; outdated thinking at worst. Brandon Marshall is a fine run blocker, but that is not why the Giants signed him in free agency before also drafting a deep-threat catching tight end. The 2017 Giants are a pass-first team. 

To make things more difficult, the Giants offensive line has not shown much improvement from their dismal run-blocking performance of last year. Shane Vereen is healthy and will play most third downs and pass plays. Giants coaches are saying happy things about the efforts of fellow runner, Orleans Darkwa. There is also the threat that 215-pound rookie Wayne Gallman, who averaged 4.2 yards after contact at Clemson last season, will vulture goal line opportunities. 

There are at least a dozen lower-rated backs I recommend ahead of Perkins. If I were forced to take a Giant, we would put Shane Vereen ahead of his teammate for now. 

Heard enough? Let the debates begin and don’t forget to check back after the season to see what you should have listened to. 

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Pat Opperman

Pat recently retired from real life to watch sports and write. Look for references to games and events from ancient times as memories of an earlier Age of Sport tend to pop into his head.

NFL Fantasy: Five running backs to think twice about before drafting

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