It’s never too early to discuss fantasy football. Within the next couple of weeks as free agency progresses the NFL landscape and fantasy football average draft positions will change. Let’s start with all the running backs that should be considered in the first round of your fantasy football drafts.
1. Le’Veon Bell – How can a running back coming off a major knee injury be the number 1 back in fantasy drafts? The answer is, his name is Le’Veon Bell and he is the best dual threat running back since Marshall Faulk. Bell’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield gives him the edge over the rest of the backs in the league and if healthy he can have a special ‘Faulk’ like season going for over 1000 yards in rushing and receiving.
2. Adrian Peterson – At what point in Adrian Peterson’s career will he start to show the ill affects of his advanced RB age? Based on the history of the NFL once a running back hits 30 with the workload AP has (2381 carries) there will be a steep decline in his production. The answer is, AP is not human. At the age of 30, Peterson rushed for a league high 1485 yards and looks to replicate those numbers again in 2016. I would not bet against Peterson as he is one of the safest picks in your 2016 fantasy draft.
3. Todd Gurley – Just how good can Todd Gurley be for a team with sketchy quarterback play and a full season removed from a major knee injury? The answer is, better than he was last season with terrible quarterback play and a couple months removed from a major knee injury. The L.A. Rams and head coach Jeff Fisher don’t really care how many people you put in the box or what the score is, they are going to run Gurley early and often. It comes down to Gurley being a generational talent and he is just better than everyone else on the field. The 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year didn’t start a game until Week 4 of the season and still ran for 1106 yards and 10 TDs. I like those numbers to increase with 16 starts in 2016.
4. Jamaal Charles – Why should you gamble on a running back that is coming off of his second major knee injury? The answer is, because the last time Jamaal Charles tore his ACL during the 2011 season he went on to rush for a career high 1509 yards in 2012. One of the most dynamic backs in the league, Charles can score from anywhere on the field while being the focal point of the Kansas City Chiefs offense. Since the hiring of head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs offense has started with Charles and ended with Charles. In 2013, Charles accounted for a ridiculous 36.7% of the Chiefs offensive production leading the league by a wide margin for a running back. Charles’ career yards per carry average at 5.5 is the best in NFL history (minimum of 1000 carries). I say all of that to say this, Charles is still a first round caliber player despite coming off of an ACL injury and should come as a bargain for fantasy teams at the end of Round 1 because of his injury history.
5. David Johnson – Why should you take a chance on a player in the first round that has only one good season in the league? The answer is, because that was David Johnson’s rookie season and he is now the unquestioned starter in Arizona unlike last season when he still managed 13 total touchdowns in a backup role. Johnson’s size/speed combination was evident watching his college tape at Northern Iowa but he showed his toughness between the tackles and big play capabilities in his rookie season last year in Arizona. The most incredible thing about Johnson’s 2015 campaign was that he only started 5 games and received a mere 125 carries. With those numbers expected to triple this season as he will become the bell cow in the desert, the sky is the limit for the 24-year-old back.
6. Devonta Freeman – Can Devonta Freeman replicate his first half success or is he the guy we saw in the second half of the 2015 season? Freeman rushed for 709 of his total 1056 rushing yards in the first 8 games of 2015 until injuries and more focus from opposing defenses took a toll on the second year back. The answer is, he falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes but I believe he is closer to his first half success rather than his second half slide. Freeman’s ability to explode through offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme coupled with his pass catching abilities make him an interesting name to target in the back half of the first round in fantasy drafts.
7. LeSean McCoy – Is Shady McCoy still a top tier running back in the NFL despite his nagging injuries, the emergence of back up Karlos Williams, and his current off-field issues? The answer is, his first round value is subject to change with further developments in his participation in a night club fight with off duty Philadelphia police officers. If McCoy is cleared of all wrong doing off the field then he will need to focus on becoming the Shady we have all grown to love from his days in Philly. Currently there are a lot of “ifs” around McCoy and his fantasy value but if he doesn’t get suspended and if he can stay healthy for 16 games then he should provide first round value in his second season in Buffalo as the lynchpin to Rex Ryan’s ground and pound game plan.
8. Thomas Rawls – CPGM Headley do you really believe Thomas Rawls can provide first round value? The answer is, yes! Yes I do, but obviously it’s contingent on Marshawn Lynch officially retiring (Seahawks have yet to move him to the reserve/retire list). Rawls was the biggest surprise in my opinion of all the 2015 rookies. I heard the buzz at the beginning of the season from the Seahawks camp on how impressed they were with their undrafted rookie free agent, but it wasn’t until I saw him in action that I realized they had Beast Mode 2.0 on their roster. Kudos to Pete Carroll and his staff on discovering the powerful bowling ball Rawls who led the NFL last year in yards per carry (5.65) and yards after contact (2.68). I will gamble on the talent of Rawls in the late first round in 2016 fantasy drafts if Beast Mode isn’t on the Seahawks roster in 2016.