If you’re an avid fantasy player like me, you have encountered the dreaded running back vulture. The vulture gets inserted in the lineup at goal line situations to reap the 6-point touchdown benefit after another player does most of the work to get the team down the field. It hurts the most when you have the starting running back in your fantasy lineup and you expect him to get the easy walk-in touchdown only to then look in the backfield and realize your guy is not even on the field. The vulture situation around the league will definitely hurt folks across the fantasy landscape as playing a vulture is not recommended due to their TD boom or bust potential with limited carries throughout the game. The vulture back play makes the most sense if you are playing in a DFS format when you are trying to roll the dice and hit big with a player that few opponents will insert into their lineup. Whatever format you play in, here are 10 RB vulture situations to watch this season.
Starter – Frank Gore
Vulture – Robert Turbin
Old man Gore has churned out an impressive career. Impressive is probably putting it lightly as it is more legendary with 13,065 career yards through 12 NFL seasons putting him 8th all-time in rushing yards. I left Gore for dead after his first year in Indianapolis averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry in a pass happy Andrew Luck offense, however his consistency and toughness between the tackles gave him his 9th career 1,000-yard season in 2016. Although Gore finished with 8 total touchdowns, he only scored 4 on the ground thanks to the RB vulture Turbin. Turbin only had 47 rushes the entire season but somehow led the team in rushing touchdowns with 7. His efficiency in the red-zone was the culprit for an astronomical 6.7 carries per TD as he converted 5-of-10 carries inside the five-yard line into touchdowns compared to Gore’s 2-of-10 rate. Heading into 2017 Gore will again be the Colts workhorse however you need to be leery that his workload may decrease and at least half of his goal line carries will more than likely go to Turbin.
Starter – Lamar Miller
Vulture – D’Onta Foreman
The Houston Texans signed Miller last season to be their Bell Cow back after the Miami Dolphins underused him the previous four seasons with 0 games for 20+ carries. Miller came out the gates on fire rushing for at least 80 yards in 5 of 6 games with carry totals of 28,25,21,19,8,24. The Miller believers were on cloud nine as he finally got the chance to be a high volume back, however they failed to realize his yards per carry took a tremendous dip and he got in the end zone just once in his first 6 games. The increased workload took a toll on Miller in the second half of the season as he battled shoulder, ankle and rib ailments which caused him to miss time in some games and not suiting up for the last two games of the regular season. Even with a banged-up Miller throughout the season, the offensive struggles had little to do with Miller’s play and a lot to do with the pitiful quarterback play of Brock Osweiler and the inferior performance of the Texans offensive line. Without the services of Osweiler, having drafted Foreman to lighten Miller’s workload and a healthier offensive line; Miller should be a more efficient fantasy back. But due to Miller’s lack of yards after contact, Miller may be relegated to the sideline in goal line situations.
New England Patriots
Starter – Whoever Bill Belichick is feeling that week
Vulture – Mike Gillislee
The Patriots are the poster boys for the running back by committee term as Belichick will give the most snaps to whichever running back has the best matchup based on the opponent their playing. Last season the big back LeGarrette Blount got the bulk of the goal line carries rushing for a NFL leading 18 touchdowns. With Blount now in Philadelphia, there is opportunity for a new running back vulture to emerge for the Patriots. The team brought in Gillislee from Buffalo and Rex Burkhead from Cincinnati to compete for early down work to go along with pass catching backs James White and Dion Lewis in the New England offense. With all these backs on the roster it will be important to identify who will catch the majority of the passes for PPR leagues and who will get the red-zone carries as this is the back you want to own. Gillislee was somewhat of a vulture last season backing up LeSean McCoy for the Bills as he scored 8 rushing touchdowns, with 6 carries that resulted in 6 touchdowns inside the 5-yard line. Don’t think Belichick and the Patriots’ staff didn’t recognize the 100% TD rate for Gillislee inside the 5 as he will be the Patriots’ vulture with huge TD upside for fantasy owners.
Starter – DeMarco Murray
Vulture – Derrick Henry
If it’s not broke don’t fix it is a general sentiment among Murray supporters as he had a bounce back year in 2016 rushing for 1,287 yards on 293 carries and 9 touchdowns. In my opinion, this might be the last time we see this kind of production from Murray because the Henry takeover is near but for this discussion let’s just focus on inside the red-zone. Murray had a good share of carries inside the 10-yard line with 26 attempts (31 yards) however Henry was far more efficient with his 11 carries (33 yards) and had a higher percentage of TDs inside the 10 and 5-yard line. Henry scored a touchdown on 36% (4-11) of his carries inside the 10-yard line compared to Murray’s 26% (7-26) and 75% (3-4) of the times inside the 5-yard line compared to Murray’s 50% (6-12). The Titans have a run heavy offense where both backs can eat and live up to their lofty fantasy draft value but Henry is the back to own as he is the bigger more efficient short yardage back who the Titans will call on to vulture the running back touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers
Starter – Ty Montgomery
Vulture – Aaron Ripkowski
Most people expected the Packers backfield to be dominated by Eddie Lacy and James Starks last season, but slot receiver Ty Montgomery actually led the team in carries and yards. Montgomery was converted to running back after Lacy and Starks went down with injuries and remained the starting tailback for the duration of the season. Montgomery’s true position has always been a question mark stemming from his collegiate days; he was a Swiss army knife who played receiver/special teams/running back at the University of Stanford. The 6-foot 220-pound stature of Montgomery suggested running back but his skill set resembled receiver. With the Packers’ coaching staff adamantly stating he is a running back due to the necessity on the team, Montgomery needs to prove that he is capable of carrying a full workload by improving his blitz recognition and pass protection in 2017. Montgomery’s 77 carries from last season will surely increase this season but I don’t expect him to get the majority of goal line carries as the new “John Kuhn” Ripkowski is a short yardage expert who carries the pile forward. If not Ripkowski, 4th round draft pick Jamaal Williams is also a name to watch to siphon carries away from Montgomery in the red-zone as he is a decisive, downhill grinder.
Starter – Dalvin Cook
Vulture – Latavius Murray
The Vikings backfield as of this moment is still up for grabs especially considering the two new faces on the depth chart, Cook and Murray being the leading candidates. Murray was signed in the off-season to replace Vikings legend Adrian Peterson. And considering the big shoes to be filled, they threw another name in the hat with Cook who they selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. If you know anything about me then you know I hold Dalvin in high regards as my RB1 in the 2017 loaded running back draft class. So, in my estimation, the talent of Cook to go along with the injury Murray is currently dealing with makes sense that Cook will be the lead back heading into the regular season. Being the lead back is an added boost to one’s fantasy value, however the lead back as you’ve seen is not always the player who punches it in and puts up “six”. Murray will definitely have a role this upcoming season and if history proves itself right then he will be the guy the Vikings call on in short yardage and goal line situations. I strongly believe Cook’s vision, burst, and balance can hold up in these situations but Murray brings a track record as he converted 9 touchdowns from inside the five-yard line and converted 13-of-18 short-yardage tries on third or fourth down. Those of you who are super high on Cook like me should temper your expectations on his fantasy value due to Murray being the vulture.
Starter – Ameer Abdullah
Vulture – Zach Zenner
Two years ago the Detroit Lions organization and fan base believed that they found their next great running back in Abdullah when they drafted him in the second round of the NFL Draft. The pre-season explosiveness and quick twitch athlete had a certain resemblance to a guy that we all know very well. Ball security issues and injuries throughout Abdullah’s two-year career have suppressed his potential a bit but the 2017 season could be a breakout campaign for the former Cornhusker. By all accounts the team is planning a “featured role” for Abdullah as he is now 100% healthy from his Lisfranc injury that caused him to miss 14 games last year. The team desperately needs a successful campaign from Abdullah running the football after going through a wide range of subpar options last season. Theo Riddick is more of a pass catching compliment, Dwayne Johnson is not ready to contribute and Zenner is a plodder whose best attribute is short yardage football. Zenner led the team in rushing touchdowns last season and his big body has carved out a goal line role that the Lions will implement to avoid the injury prone Abdullah taking on unnecessary hits.
Starter – Christian McCaffrey
Vulture – Jonathan Stewart/Cam Newton
Christian “They Love Him” McCaffrey is coming off an epic collegiate career in which he broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards in 2015. Although his 2016 season wasn’t as prolific as his 2015 campaign he still showcased excellent vision, patience and burst while battling through injury. The Panthers selected McCaffrey in the top 10 of the draft at a position that has been devalued over the last 5 seasons due to teams becoming more specialized. The number 8 selection by the Panthers spoke volumes on the type of playmaker they expect McCaffrey to be as runner, returner and receiver. I have questions on whether QB Cam Newton will be efficient in getting the ball to McCaffrey in the short to intermediate passing game but that’s a discussion for another time. The main issue for the fantasy success of the rookie will come down to how many touchdowns he scores. The Panthers have the number 1 QB vulture of all-time in Newton and a 235-pound running back that was effective in the short yardage role last season in Stewart. Stewart converted 9-of-16 carries inside the five-yard line into TDs and forced the NFL’s second most missed tackles on rushing attempts. Unless McCaffrey breaks a lot of 20+ yard TD runs in 2017, temper your expectations as Stewart will be the vulture back.
Starter – LeSean McCoy
Vulture – Mike Tolbert
If you know the excellence of Shady then you know a vulture back is often times not necessary as he usually punches it in from anywhere on the field and he is one of the dying breed every-down running backs left in the league. It is something to think about though as McCoy is getting up there in age and was vultured a bit last season by the now departed Mike Gillislee. McCoy only received 31% of the Bills runs inside of the 5-yard line last season as the team preferred to give attempts to the north-south runners on the roster. There is a new coaching staff in Buffalo led by former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott who brought in full back Patrick DiMarco and one of his former players Mike Tolbert. The latter is one of the greatest vultures of all-time as his physical running style bowls over defenders with ease in goal line and short yardage situations. McCoy is still a RB1 for all intents and purposes however the Bills vulture situation is one to watch especially when taking into consideration the use of Tolbert.
New York Jets
Starter – Bilal Powell
Vulture – Matt Forte
The Jets media remains steadfast regarding who the starting running back will be in 2017. Forte is still viewed as the workhorse according to sources but I believe Powell will be on the field more than Forte this upcoming season. Yes, Forte has had a remarkable NFL career as he is closing in on 10,000 yards for his career. And yes, he has been one of the most consistent forces at the position for almost a decade. But Powell has the juice now. The Jets are in full rebuild mode and it would serve the team best to see what they have in Powell. Also, with the current roster it seems likely the team will be playing from behind a lot this season which works to Powell’s advantage. Powell was one reception behind the team lead in 2016 with 58 catches and proved to be the more explosive player of the two. With all that said, Forte is still the bigger back that should be the more effective runner inside the 5-yard line. He received 71% of the team carries inside the 5-yard line last season scoring 5 touchdowns compared to Powell’s one attempt. I expect this trend to continue if Forte is around at the beginning of the season.