NFL Fantasy: 5 Last minute questions about running backs

Feet, trade rumors, linemen out-of-line… things like that have us rethinking the running backs in our NFL fantasy draft plans.

The big weekend is here! Millions around the world will be selecting their 2017 NFL fantasy teams, but how many of them are aware of what you are about to learn? Well. as long as you and I are in the know, that’s all that matters. 

This week’s round of preseason games might not have much of an impact on our fantasy rosters, but some of the other stories from the waning days of training camp just might. For instance…

What’s up with Leonard Fournette’s foot?

Jacksonville’s rookie running back is widely expected to be a workhorse in their run-first scheme. But the word “expected” is looming large in their plans. As in, “Fournette is expected to be ready for week one.” That is the problem with foot injuries. They are unpredictable, especially in someone who not only expected to run and cut, but run and cut with 250 pounds of defensive lineman holding on to him. 

Fournette only played seven games last season for LSU because of injuries. Like any rookie, he has never played in as fast a game or as long a season as he will in the NFL. Should you skip him in your draft? Heck no! If he can run, he is a lock to be an RB1 as long as he lasts. But I might feel more secure picking fellow rookies Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, not to mention Isaiah Crowell, who are all drafting after Fournette so far. 

What also changes is the outlook of Jacksonville’s backup running backs. Chris Ivory ran for over 1,000 yards two years ago in a shared backfield for the New York Jets. Last season, injuries slowed him considerably. He may be relied on to save wear and tear on Fournette’s foot and could become the Jaguar’s primary back with one bad pivot. Even though Corey Grant had the best camp of any of the Jaguar running backs, if Ivory is available in the last rounds, he is worth a stash. 

What’s wrong with Forte?

As far as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with the Jets’ Matt Forte. He ran strong and reliably throughout training camp. While it was expected that the younger Bilal Powell would flip into the lead role, Forte was still part of the equation. Then the Jets announced he was available for trade after the third preseason game. “Available for trade” usually indicates a player will be cut if no trade is made. 

The Jets have a couple of rookie running backs, but no one who made a ruckus in the preseason. If they show Forte the door, Powell becomes a workhorse back on a team not likely to pass much. His stock was already rising, but without Forte, his current fifth-round, RB27 is way too low. He was the RB21 in a secondary role last season. He will easily top that this year. 

Watch carefully, though. There is a chance someone on the Jets will realize they still have to pay Forte $4 million dollars if they cut him. Even with his senior running partner, Powell is a good bet at RB20. 

Just because they can’t pass…

Fans in Indianapolis are in for a long year. As if the status of Andrew Luck wasn’t worth enough headaches, here comes word that starting center Ryan Kelly will miss the season. On an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks last season and was not improved in the offseason, Kelly was their best hope of pulling it together. 

Old reliable, Frank Gore, was already facing a big challenge without a viable quarterback keeping defenses from stacking the box. Now with a bad offensive line made worse, that challenge is bigger. His ADP was an un-Gore-like seventh round RB37 before the injury. That may be a tad high without Kelly anchoring the troops up front. 

Whether rookie sensation Marlon Mack can make anything out of the mess is yet to be seen. Indianapolis already said they want to work the rookie into the game plan. He could line up in various locations as a receiver and the backup running back. Backing up a 34-year-old running back bound to get beat up is enough to make him a worthy handcuff. He may become more than that as the Colts rely on gimmicks to move the ball with their suspect roster of quarterbacks and linemen. Currently drafting as the RB51, Mack may prove worthy of closer to RB40. 

Just because they can pass

Julius Edelman’s injury naturally elevated the status of Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola on NFL fantasy WR boards. After that, things get a little fuzzy. Malcolm Mitchell was a trusted receiver in last year’s attack, but he has some injury issues coming out of camp. 

So, what does that have to do with running backs? Bill Belichick is a master at using players where they will help, regardless of their title. Dion Lewis and James White have been used as wide receivers before and could be dual players in 2017. Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee have gotten the early press out of New England, but the pass catchers could challenge either for fantasy points. I am more likely to pick White later in the draft than I am to use a mid-round pick on either Gillislee or Burkhead. 

Who is left running in Baltimore?

Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh declared early in camp that the Ravens would run more in 2017. That was before Joe Flacco’s back became an issue. That was also before Kenneth Dixon landed on injured reserve. That was before Terrance West’s less-than-impressive preseason. It was also before 32-year-old Danny Woodhead, coming off an ACL injury, pulled a hamstring. 

Both West and Woodhead are expected to go in the season opener. If they stay healthy, they get first shot and are worth their current ADP of RB35 and RB36. (Woodhead is worth more in PPR leagues.) But if either one falters, the name to look for is Buck Allen. He has played well all preseason and should be the third running back. If the starting position was based solely on camp and preseason games, Allen would be the starter right now. That might still happen, so watch for news from Maryland right up to draft time. Allen may be worth a last-round handcuff regardless. 

Agree with our advice? Thoughts on other tough RB decisions? Comment below!

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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.