The running back position in fantasy leagues has always been a top priority as fantasy owners usually selects a running back in either the first or second round. With the league becoming pass happy in recent years wide receivers and quarterbacks have been sneaking into the first round more recently. I totally understand the draft strategy of drafting receivers earlier and waiting for your running backs later in the draft last season as 10 different receivers eclipsed 1300+ yards and 11 scored at least 10 TDs compared to four running backs over 1300 yards and only two scoring double digit TDs. You can take those stats into account when determining what your draft strategy should be but with the league specializing the running back position by early down back, third down or receiving back, and goal line back you will have to dig deeper in nailing down running backs in the later rounds.
Ameer Abdullah/Detroit Lions – The average draft position is climbing rapidly on the second round rookie phenom out of Nebraska. As a matter of fact he’ll probably move up a couple more spots before you finish reading this post. The hype is real on Abdullah, just check out the 45-yard run he had against the stingy Jets first team defense in Week 1 of the Preseason. Not sure how late Abdullah will fall down draft boards but if your league is not up on things he can possibly be selected at a bargain value. The Lions offense already has superstar receiver Calvin Johnson and an electrifying Golden Tate on the outside. Now they have added a game changing back in Abdullah who will see a lot of soft boxes. If he grabs a hold of the starting position from an injured Joique Bell (looking likely) watch out as he has a legitimate shot at winning 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Danny Woodhead/San Diego Chargers – I know, I know, Melvin Gordon is the man in San Diego but quarterback Phillip Rivers gets a familiar face back with the diminutive Danny Woodhead. The 5’8 Woodhead missed most of last season with a severe ankle/fibula fracture and was severely missed as Rivers’ security blanket out of the backfield. A points per reception dynamo in fantasy football, Woodhead caught 76 passes in 2013 with a total of 8 TDs for the Chargers. Even with Gordon in the lineup Woodhead still expects to play the majority of the third/passing downs with the added value of stealing some goal line carries away as well. Head coach Mike McCoy’s implementation of a short to intermediate passing attack in San Diego coupled with Antonio Gates’ suspension for the first four games bodes well for Woodhead’s success within the offense. Last year’s lost season will make Woodhead an afterthought in many fantasy drafts but a savvy owner should have him in their draft queue and target this guy, especially in PPR leagues.
Tre Mason/St. Louis Rams – Son of rap legend Maseo who comprised of one-third of the rap group De La Soul, Tre Mason’s rise to fame started at the University of Auburn where he spearheaded the Tigers’ National Championship run, rushing for 1816 yards. Drafted in the third round by the Rams, Mason didn’t get his opportunity at a NFL carry until Week 6 of the season. Mason hasn’t looked back since then rushing for 765 yards last season while showcasing his burst, power, and dependability within the Rams’ offense. Coming into the 2015 season fantasy owners alike believed this would be the season to snag the second year back with the team moving on from Zac Stacy. Well the Rams and Jeff Fisher had other plans by drafting arguably the best back in college football, Todd Gurley, with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft. This news caused Mason to drop tremendously down fantasy drafts understandably, but I’m here to tell you with the health of Gurley still hanging in the balance drafting Mason later in your drafts could be a steal. Mason has slimmed down this offseason and will have a chip on his shoulder to prove he is “the guy” after the Rams blindsided him with the pick of Gurley. Also, the team is not going to rush or put pressure on their first round pick who is still trying to recover from a gruesome ACL injury he suffered while at the University of Georgia in 2014. Don’t forget about Mason!!!
David Cobb/Tennessee Titans – Can a fifth round rookie really pull a full-time jack move and replace the team’s second round draft pick (1st back to come of the board last season) in the starting lineup? Well this is something David Cobb is actively pursuing while looking like the more talented back between himself and Bishop Sankey. Cobb to the naked eye appears to be a tough physical north-to-south running back who takes what the defense gives him. Well he is that and more, watching Cobb in the first preseason game against the Falcons he showed he is not just a downhill thumper, but a back with excellent feet and vision who can make defenders miss as well as running through defenders for extra yards. He reminds me a lot like Le’Veon Bell in the sense that I also thought Bell was a physical pounder out of Michigan State but the transition to NFL showed he was a lot more athletic and shifty. While Sankey is still ahead of Cobb on the depth chart, Sankey had a forgetful rookie season last year averaging 3.7 yards per carry while also living in coach Ken Whisenhunts’s doghouse (figuratively lol). The rookie out of Minnesota will get every opportunity to become the lead back in Tennessee as Whisenhunt stated he will get an extended look in the Titans’ second preseason game and will play snaps with the first team offense. If Cobb can prove to the coaching staff that he has the ability to pass protect he can could be the starter in Week 1. This running back battle should be highly monitored for fantasy football purposes because if Cobb becomes the starter he will have huge upside as a later selection in fantasy drafts.
Ronnie Hillman/Denver Broncos – Here is a deep sleeper I have a sneaking suspicion about. I want to preface my Ronnie Hillman recommendation with the fact that I am a big C.J. Anderson supporter who believes if healthy he can be a Top 5 back in fantasy football this season. Now that I got that out the way, Ronnie Hillman was the Broncos’ best back in the first preseason game and looked to fit head coach Gary Kubiak’s outside zone running scheme to a “T.” Hillman’s ability to get to the edge easily with speed and burst is something no other running back on the Broncos’ depth chart possess. This situation reminds me of the situation Kubiak had last season with the emergence of Justin Forsett, another back who had the gear to get to the edges in the zone blocking scheme. Obviously the difference here is that the Ray Rice saga which gave Forsett his opportunity. In Denver, Hillman has to battle Anderson and Montee Ball for carries which should limit his opportunity, making him a risky player to select in your fantasy drafts. I suggest you take Hillman late in your draft as a handcuff to Anderson because if Anderson goes down with an injury I believe Hillman can have a breakout season a la Forsett.