Ah, the fantasy running back. The position is obviously an invaluable piece of a potential championship winning roster. We're in the midst of a changing of the guard in terms of elite fantasy backs as well as a shift in draft strategy. This season, more than in years past, seems to be focused on top tier wide receivers in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Much of that is due to the incredible amount of season-ending injuries that starting running backs endured last season, making the handcuffs and other backups behind them more important than ever. A few waiver-wire stars of 2015 include Thomas Rawls, DeAngelo Williams and Tim Hightower. I'm willing to bet none of those guys were on your draft list last August.
So with that in mind, I've taken it upon myself to help all of you fantasy fans out there iron out some details when it comes to all 32 NFL teams and how their backfields are shaping up for the upcoming 2016 campaign. Now, it's only mid June, so you're going to see a lot of words such as "probably" or "likely" because this early in the summer, we're no where near 100 percent certain how things will play out. Training camp won't be underway for another month yet, so much of the speculation below is just that -- speculation.
Now it's time to bear down and fill your brain with some backfield knowledge to get an edge over your leaguemates. Because hey, it's never too early to begin studying for your fantasy draft (insert "The More You Know" gif).
Projected starter: 1. David Johnson
Backups: 2. Chris Johnson; 3. Andre Ellington; 4. Stepfan Taylor 5. Kerwynn Williams
2016 Outlook: All signs point to this backfield belonging to second-year back David Johnson, who made waves last season as a rookie. He's a lock as a top-five fantasy draft pick at his position this summer and while the elder (Chris) Johnson could cycle in periodically to get his younger teammate some rest, there's no denying David's raw skills as both a rusher and pass-catcher. In addition to his 125 rush attempts after taking over the lead role late in the season, Johnson was targeted 57 times and hauled in 36 receptions over the course of his rookie year. With the three-down capabilities Johnson possesses, coach Bruce Arians will be hard pressed to take his talented young runner off the field. Fantasy managers who do end up drafting David will want to consider investing in veteran Chris as a handcuff, but not until the very late rounds. Andre Ellington, who has had durability issues nearly his entire career, is nothing more than an afterthought and probably should not be drafted save for the deepest of leagues as a dart throw. Williams and Taylor are capable of handling a full workload but would only be called upon in desperate times.
Projected starter: 1. Devonta Freeman
Backups: 2. Tevin Coleman; 3. Terron Ward; 4. Gus Johnson
2016 Outlook: Last season's top-scoring fantasy running back is poised for RB1-type production once again. Freeman proved he can handle three-down duties as he caught 73 receptions last year boosting his all-purpose yardage total over the 1,500 mark. His high volume workload is something that cannot be overlooked late in the first round of drafts come August. And while there is room for some regression here, there is little risk involved as Atlanta enters its second season in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system -- a system that funneled pretty much everything through Freeman and Julio Jones last year. Another name fantasy owners should keep in mind is second-year back Tevin Coleman. Coleman, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie and is already drawing rave reviews from Matt Ryan in minicamp, could carve out a bigger role for himself as the No. 2 guy. It's easy to forget that the starting back role was up for grabs all through training camp and into the start of the season last year until Freeman lit the fantasy world on fire and won the job following his Week 3 breakout against Dallas while Coleman sat out with an injury. Terron Ward and Gus Johnson aren't worth considering as anything more than waiver wire options if Freeman or Coleman have to miss time.
Projected starter: 1. Justin Forsett
Backups: 2. Javorius Allen; 3. Kenneth Dixon; 4. Lorenzo Taliaferro; 5. Terrance West
2016 Outlook: Forsett, who will turn 31 in October, projects as Baltimore's starting running back to open training camp, but he's got a heated competition brewing behind him. Before he went down with a broken arm last year, Forsett averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 10 games but scored only two touchdowns leaving fantasy owners who invested in him early in drafts wanting more. His injury opened up an opportunity for Buck Allen to get some work as a rookie, and he flashed as much as one might think he could in an anemic Baltimore offense that was depleted by injuries. We could also see Kenneth Dixon, a fourth-round pick, get some work if he can make a case for touches during training camp. It's too early to tell who will run away with the lead role here, but all three aforementioned backs are worth a look in drafts as long as the price is right. Forsett will likely have a long leash as the incumbent veteran, but you can bet that offensive coordinator Marc Trestman would like to mix in Allen and Dixon (a natural pass-catcher) on passing downs. Taliaferro and West will compete for snaps as well, but for the time being Forsett, Allen and Dixon are the three fantasy owners need to worry about.
Projected starter: 1. LeSean McCoy
Backups: 2. Karlos Williams; 3. Daniel Herron; 4. Mike Gillslee; 5. Jonathan Williams
2016 Outlook: A hamstring injury limited Shady's production early last season, but he did manage to produce some solid weeks for his owners who stuck with him. The early word out of Buffalo is that the team is going to keep McCoy's preseason reps limited in an effort to keep him fresh for the season. It's not a shocker as he's entering his eighth year in the league. He's still the No. 1 in Buffalo, but after Karlos Williams put together a solid rookie campaign (5.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns), we may be looking at a thunder-and-lightening kind of duo here. That is, if Williams can get in shape by the time training camp is underway. He reported to minicamp overweight and was held out of practice because of that. We'll have to hope he can shed some pounds for training camp, but he's still the best option on the team behind McCoy. As for draft prices, for those willing to risk an early-to-mid round pick on McCoy, that's your gamble to take when you account for his injury history. Williams, who missed time with a concussion last season, should be drafted later on as well, both to use as a handcuff and a potential sleeper with breakout potential in his second season. We know Rex Ryan employs a ground-and-pound offense (the Bills had the highest run percentage in the NFL last season, 52.2) which means there will be ample opportunities for both backs to get theirs.
Projected starter: 1. Jonathan Stewart
Backups: 2. Cameron Artis-Payne; 3. Fozzy Whittaker; 4. Brandon Wegher
2016 Outlook:Jonathan Stewart is really the only runner in the Carolina backfield that fantasy owners should pay any mind to. His numbers last season were not off the charts due to a slow start, but he got the job done quietly and consistently with seven double-digit fantasy outings. J-Stew's fantasy ceiling is capped due to Cam Newton's prowess as a goal-line rusher, but the veteran back will still be able to provide low-end RB2 production throughout the season based on volume. His asking price as a late fifth-rounder is an absolute steal. Cameron Artis-Payne totaled just 14 rush attempts until Week 14 when Stewart was on the shelf to rest for the playoffs. Even in terms of handcuffing Stewart, Artis-Payne isn't really a great option unless we see him in a bigger role once training camp begins. Whittaker and Wegher are not going to be drafted.
Projected starter: 1. Jeremy Langford
Backups: 2. Jordan Howard; 3. Ka'Deem Carey; 4. Jacquizz Rodgers
2016 Outlook: With Matt Forte out of the picture, we've got a full blown position battle in the Chicago backfield. Langford, who produced fairly well in the nine games that he received double-digit carries, finished his rookie season with seven total touchdowns but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. That number will have to increase if he wants to have a shot at the lead role. He's the only Chicago running back being drafted inside the first 15 rounds right now, with an ADP in the late-fourth round range. So for a guy whose role isn't locked in, that's a bit rich. Basically, this is going to be a training camp competition and could end up as a rotating committee situation. Carey and Rodgers both have experience as backups, but were never able to take the next step. Jordan Howard, a big rookie out of Indiana, could easily win the lead role if he can prove himself in camp. He's not the fastest guy out there but his 6-foot, 230-pound build makes him an early-down and goal-line candidate. He can be drafted as a late-round flyer with the potential to put up flex-type numbers or better if he can work his way into a solid role.
Projected starter: 1. Jeremy Hill
Backups: 2. Giovani Bernard; 3. Rex Burkhead; 4. Cedric Peerman
2016 Outlook:Fantasy fans are rightfully soured by what Jeremy Hill contributed last season aside from his big outings when he was scoring touchdowns in clusters. In fact, of the top 15 fantasy running backs last year, Hill was the only one to record fewer than 900 total yards and average fewer than 55 total yards per game. In short, he was not getting the job done aside from 1-yard touchdown plunges here and there. So while he may be listed as the starter, there's a good chance that his workload is split right down the middle with Giovani Bernard, as it was last year. Bernard was consistently productive for the first half of the season despite his lack of touchdown scoring (two total) and did damage in the passing game too. Only about two rounds separate the two Cincinnati backs this year, with Hill clocking in with a Round 6 ADP and Bernard at a Round 8 ADP. Bernard is the upside play with little risk in the middle rounds, while some fantasy owners willing to invest a sixth rounder on Hill may end up with a bargain if he can bounce back.
Projected starter: 1. Isaiah Crowell
Backups: 2. Duke Johnson; 3. Glenn Winston; 4. Terrell Watson
2016 Outlook: With a new front office and coaching staff, you can bet that the Browns will be looking to make a statement early on in the AFC North. How realistic that is, though, only time will tell. But one major positive for the Dawg Pound's ground game is the arrival of Hue Jackson in Cleveland. Jackson has a history of balanced offenses focused on the run, and the new coach instilled confidence in his incumbent backs when the Browns took nary a running back in the draft. Both Johnson and Crowell come as value picks this season with Round 8 and Round 10 ADPs, respectively, as offseason OTAs wrap. Johnson has more upside thanks to his passing game prowess but he lacks the toughness as a between-the-tackles runner that Crowell possesses. There's almost zero risk in adding Crowell in double-digit rounds as he projects as the early-down banger who runs with power, conviction and toughness.
Projected starter: 1. Ezekiel Elliott
Backups: 2. Alfred Morris; 3. Darren McFadden; 4. Lance Dunbar
2016 Outlook: We already know that Zeke is a first-round pick in fantasy drafts this year. But news about Darren McFadden's elbow injury only reinforced that Elliott is the clear-cut leader for feature back duties in this backfield. Sure, Dallas acquired Alfred Morris in free agency, but after they selected Zeke as the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft, it's obvious that Morris is more of an insurance piece than anything else. Elliott possesses a three-down skill set and should be able to return that first round value you invested in him while running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. With McFadden dealing with his elbow injury, Morris could lock up No. 2 duties behind Elliott and would be a good late round snag if you're looking for a handcuff with three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Dallas re-signed Lance Dunbar but he's still rehabbing a gruesome knee injury from last season and could open the year on the PUP list.
Projected starter: 1. C.J. Anderson
Backups: 2. Ronnie Hillman; 3. Devontae Booker; 4. Juwan Thompson
2016 Outlook: Last year, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman split snaps pretty much right down the middle. Anderson was considered a fantasy bust by many who invested a high pick on him because he struggled to produce early in the season due to ankle and foot injuries. Coach Gary Kubiak decided to rotate his backs in the hope of finding a hot hand to roll with on a per game basis, and that worked out for the most part, to the frustration of fantasy owners. But Anderson got healthy down the stretch and was a valuable asset for fantasy owners who stuck with him late in the season, while Hillman's production trailed off, though he finished the year with more total fantasy points than Anderson did. Anderson, fresh off a shiny new contract, is getting no love in early drafts with a Round 5 ADP and for a No. 1 back, we'll take him there all day long. Devontae Booker, a rookie out of Utah, is also in the mix which may cloud this backfield further if he pushes for opportunities in camp. Keep in mind that Booker is rehabbing a torn meniscus so he's not yet at full speed in spring practice sessions. Hillman may have to fight to keep his No. 2 spot if Booker turns heads in camp and a recent report on the Broncos official website states that it's a three-man battle for the backup role to Anderson. For now we're cool with taking a flier on Booker in the later rounds and leaving Hillman on the waiver wire until we see things play out. The team is shifting Juwan Thompson to fullback duties, so keep your fingers crossed that he doesn't become a dreaded touchdown vulture.
Projected starter: 1. Ameer Abdullah
Backups: 2. Theo Riddick; 3. Zach Zenner; 4. Stevan Ridley
2016 Outlook: Abdullah is the projected starter for Detroit, but that doesn't mean you should draft the second-year back as a workhorse by any means. That sentiment is reflected in his Round 8 ADP. In fact, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, reports that Theo Riddick could be more involved as a runner have surfaced. It's a tough pill to swallow seeing as Riddick's career yards per carry average is 2.9 and he's much more effective as a playmaker in space and on passing plays. Both backs are worth drafting if the price is right but we're not too bullish on either just yet. Riddick will be a great asset in PPR leagues as he hauled in 80 receptions on 99 targets just a season ago. Let's not forget about second year bruiser Zach Zenner. The UDFA missed most of last season with upper body injuries but had a strong showing in the preseason. He should compete for snaps and could become an option as a short yardage or goal-line back. We may be looking at a full blown running back by committee here. Ridley, the eldest of the group at age 27, has a 1,000-yard season on his resume and could also earn himself some work. We're hoping for at least a little bit of clarity once training camp opens up, but until then this Detroit backfield is up for speculation.
Green Bay Packers:
Projected starter: 1. Eddie Lacy
Backups: 2. James Starks; 3. John Crockett; 4. Brandon Burks
2016 Outlook: Did you hear that Eddie Lacy slimmed down this offseason? The Alabama product is working to get into better shape than he was playing in last year, and has made headlines regarding his progress. The Green Bay offense as a whole is also in better shape than it was at the end of 2015 which means potentially great things for Lacy's production in a contract year. Still, the fantasy community seems split on whether or not Lacy should be a top 10 option at running back. We know he can play on all three downs and has the size to be a goal-line guy, too. So with Jordy Nelson back to open things up downfield, Lacy should have some smoother sledding ahead of him. There's a chance that James Starks works in to provide some rest for Lacy, especially if the Packers find themselves on the winning side of a blowout, but we're not buying Starks as anything more than a handcuff. Lacy's current second-round ADP feels like a bargain considering how much of a juggernaut Green Bay's offense could potentially be this season at full health across the board.
Projected starter: 1. Lamar Miller
Backups: 2. Alfred Blue; 3. Jonathan Grimes; 4. Tyler Ervin
2016 Outlook: Finally, a situation that we can be excited about for Lamar Miller. That excitement is reflected in his early second round ADP. Miller has never averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry in his four seasons in the NFL, has collected 2,643 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons and could shatter his previous fantasy point totals of 185.4 and 184.9 (standard) as the featured back in Houston. He's set up to thrive as a three-down runner with top-five fantasy back potential, and brings much-needed improvement to the Texans backfield. With essentially zero competition for snaps behind him, fantasy owners should not be afraid to snatch him as a late first-rounder with an all-purpose skill set which only boosts his fantasy value. Alfred Blue never wowed in his stint as Arian Foster's backup and speedy rookie Tyler Ervin will likely be limited to special teams duties early on. This backfield is Miller's to own and the sky is the limit in a revamped Houston offense that is loaded with speed.
Projected starter: 1. Frank Gore
Backups: 2. Robert Turbin; 3. Jordan Todman; 4. Trey Williams 5.
2016 Outlook: As it stands now, this Colts backfield is not very appealing from a fantasy perspective. Frank Gore is 33 years old and while he just won't go away, he registered a career low 3.7 yards per carry last season in a struggling Indy offense. He may be the leader at the start of the season but the wheels have to fall off at some point, and Gore has been on a statistical decline now for a few seasons. Elsewhere, Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman are career backups with some potential if handed a real opportunity but neither is a viable fantasy option in redraft leagues. Trey Williams is a 5-foot-7, 200-pounder who has just two rush attempts to his name through two seasons and to go even deeper, Josh Ferguson is a UDFA in whom the Colts see some Darren Sproles-like qualities. Whether or not he can put it all together is yet to be seen. In short, Gore is really the only back here worth drafting but you can't expect anything more than flex-type production rather than the RB2 upside we've leaned on for years with The Inconvenient Truth. We're not buying a 1,000-yard season though. One of the backups may eventually step up but none of them are worth gambling a draft pick on.
Projected starter: 1. Chris Ivory
Backups: 2. T.J Yeldon 3. Denard Robinson; 4. Jonas Gray
2016 Outlook: The Jaguars scooped up Chris Ivory from the Jets this offseason, fresh off a career year. In 2015 with New York, Ivory set career highs in carries (247), rushing yards (1,070), rushing touchdowns (seven) and scrimmage yards (1,287). Ivory is the projected starter and early down back so the fact that two rounds separate Ivory (7.05) and T.J. Yeldon (9.02) in terms of ADP at this point in the year makes sense. Yeldon's role may be limited to change-of-pace duties, so Ivory should be considered a steal since he will probably be the goal-line banger as well. Yeldon's rookie season ended a few games early when a knee sprain put him on the sidelines in mid-December, but that's not a concern heading into the 2016 season. Ivory doesn't have the best history in terms of durability though, so at least we know that Yeldon can carry the workload should Ivory miss any time. As for Shoelace, Robinson's role likely won't be a major one unless the Jaguars have bad luck with injuries. For now he's a waiver-wire piece while Ivory and Yeldon are worth picking up at their current asking prices.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Projected starter: 1. Jamaal Charles
Backups: 2. Charcandrick West; 3. Spencer Ware; 4. Knile Davis
2016 Outlook: For what it's worth, I personally think that Jamaal Charles is still worthy of a first-round selection in fantasy drafts this year despite the fact that he's coming back from the second ACL tear of his career and will be 30 in December. Concerns about his previous workload wearing on him shouldn't be too much of an issue since his career rush attempt average per game is 13.2. We've seen Charles produce elite fantasy numbers for years without the high volume workloads that guys like Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch have endured. Charles is a mid-second round pick right now and the fact that he's already participating in minicamp drills is a great sign for his health and availability in Week 1. As for West and Ware, who both re-upped their contracts in Kansas City, they each warrant a late-round pick since we saw them succeed in Charles' stead last season and should serve as nice plug-and-play options should Charles suffer any setbacks along the road to getting back to 100 percent. For now though, Charles is the clear-cut No. 1 and is far and away the best option in this backfield.
Los Angeles Rams:
Projected starter: 1. Todd Gurley
Backups: 2. Benny Cunningham; 3. Tre Mason; 4. Aaron Green
2016 Outlook:Todd Gurley, welcome to Los Angeles. In his second pro season, Gurley is a top-three pick at his position and will be gone after the first round of fantasy drafts. Arguably the best running back in the league, Gurley should be fed at least 20 carries per game while the Rams develop rookie signal caller Jared Goff. Gurley averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie, averaged 14.4 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues and ranked third overall in the league in terms of total rushing yards. He's a lock for double-digit touchdowns and 1,200-plus rush yards in 2016. Tre Mason has had some legal issues during the offseason and is not a fantasy option. Benny Cunningham is most likely the next man up should Gurley have to miss time, but there are other handcuffs worth drafting over any of the Rams backups. Aaron Green, a rookie out of TCU, has a small frame and had trouble staying upright in college. He should not be on the fantasy radar.
Projected starter: 1. Jay Ajayi
Backups: 2. Damien Williams; 3. Kenyan Drake; 4. Daniel Thomas
2016 Outlook: Despite the team's best efforts, Miami was unable to secure another back in free agency this offseason. So for now, Ajayi has little competition for the lead role in the Dolphins backfield. The team did draft Alabama product Kenyan Drake in the third round, but he doesn't seem to be threatening Ajayi's workload just yet. Plus, Drake suffered a leg injury in minicamp, which is never a good sign for a rookie. Ajayi, who recorded 277 total yards on 56 touches last season, has impressed new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase with his performance in OTAs. Gase said that his No. 1 back separated himself from the rest of the lot, which was sort of a given but is always nice to get the reassurance. There's still a chance Miami adds a veteran (Arian Foster?) before the season starts, but for now Ajayi is coming as a bargain as a Round 6 pickup. You should expect his ADP to rise as the summer rolls on and his role becomes more cemented, but for now consider him a decently kept secret, especially if you're considering a zero-RB draft strategy. As for the other backs listed here, Drake may cut out a change-of-pace role for himself eventually, but isn't worth a look in redraft formats. If you're a truther of Damien Williams, Daniel Thomas or journeyman Isaiah Pead, well then you're on your own.
Projected starter: 1. Adrian Peterson
Backups: 2. Jerick McKinnon; 3. Matt Asiata; 4. Blake Renaud
2016 Outlook: Last year's rushing title went to Adrian Peterson. No real surprise there. But at age 31, some fantasy owners may fear a statistical slowdown, although he seems to be showing no signs of that during minicamp. The one thing Peterson said he's working on improving is his route running to become a more complete back. You have to love his work ethic but considering his age, the Vikings coaching staff could look to manage his touches a bit more this season which may mean more opportunities for Jerick McKinnon. As the potential heir to Peterson's throne, Minnesota may give McKinnon more run this year to keep All Day fresh and to get him more involved in the offense to groom him for a larger role in seasons to come. Either way, McKinnon can be snagged as a late-round handcuff to Peterson while touchdown vulture Matt Asiata is nothing more than that -- an inefficient short-yardage plow who shouldn't have an impact in fantasy this season.
New England Patriots:
Projected starter: 1. Dion Lewis
Backups: 2. LeGarrette Blount; 3. Brandon Bolden; 4. James White
2016 Outlook: Here we go again … trying to predict the Patriots backfield is a fool's game. I know this. You know this. At the very least though, we can provide some insight into how things are shaping up as the team preps for training camp. New England has depth in terms of talented pass-catching backs. Dion Lewis is still recovering from an ACL tear in November but was on the field during OTAs in June, though not yet at full strength. Lewis was extremely effective last year for fantasy owners: He averaged 4.8 yards per carry on his 49 rush attempts with 234 rush yards and two rushing scores, adding 388 yards as a pass-catcher on 36 receptions and two receiving touchdowns. The guy was a waiver wire gem following a solid Week 1 performance, and produced double-digit fantasy totals in five of six games that he played in and finished. His Round 5 is ADP is just about right for a guy coming back from a serious injury in a backfield that is nearly impossible to predict. New England also re-signed LeGarrette Blount this offseason. His 2015 campaign also ended early due to a hip injury, forcing the Pats to use a committee consisting of Brandon Bolden and James White. Both Bolden and White are still lurking on the roster but neither of them are worthy of a draft investment unless they make waves in training camp and jump up the depth chart.
New Orleans Saints:
Projected starter: 1. Mark Ingram
Backups: 2. Tim Hightower; 3. C.J. Spiller; 4. Travaris Cadet; 5. Daniel Lasco
2016 Outlook: Ingram brings RB2 value to the table this season as the clear-cut featured back in the Saints offense. Toss in his newfound prowess as a pass-catching back (he logged a career high 50 receptions for 405 receiving yards in 13 games last year) and he could inch into RB1 territory. As has been the case his entire career, health is a concern for Ingram, but it shouldn't deter people from drafting him. Spiller's role will likely be that of a third down specialist with some boom-or-bust potential, but nothing worth reaching for. We watched Hightower lead fantasy owners to championship glory at the end of last season, but he'll only get a shot at the same if Ingram has to miss time. He's not worth drafting nor is Cadet. As a seventh-round draft selection buried on the depth chart, rookie Daniel Lasco's role doesn't project to be a major one out of the gate.
New York Giants:
Projected starter: 1. Rashad Jennings
Backups: 2. Shane Vereen; 3. Paul Perkins; 4. Andre Williams
2016 Outlook: The Giants backfield was a nightmare last year from a fantasy standpoint. Not a single running back was reliable on a weekly basis until it was too late. Rashad Jennings posted 432 rush yards in the final four games of the season, but by that point most fantasy owners had given up on this backfield all together. Jennings is the favorite to lead the way again, and could provide matchup-based flex value which is worth considering at his Round 10 asking price, while Shane Vereen will be a flex option in PPR formats. As a rookie, Paul Perkins could push for snaps if Jennings falters, so he is definitely worth a late-round flier as a deep sleeper, while Andre Williams is on the outside looking in. Bobby Rainey, formerly a third-stringer with the Buccaneers, will have to get up to speed with his new offense so he won't see much playing time early on.
New York Jets:
Projected starter: 1. Matt Forte
Backups: 2. Bilal Powell; 3. Khiry Robinson; 4. Zac Stacy
2016 Outlook: An elite fantasy back for the last eight seasons in Chicago, Forte will come at a value this year with a current Round 3 ADP, mainly due to his age and somewhat unknown situation with his new team. Still, his outlook is positive considering Chris Ivory posted over 1,000 rush yards last season in the Jets system. Forte is obviously a better back than Ivory, and will be drafted as such, but most fantasy owners tend to prefer youth over experience. New York has great depth here, as Bilal Powell emerged as a real flex option last year averaging 4.5 yards per carry and saw 63 targets as a pass-catcher. He should retain that same role again for the New York backfield. Khiry Robinson, formerly Ingram's backup in New Orleans, can't be considered anything more than a handcuff at this point and probably isn't worth a spot on fantasy rosters while Zac Stacy is a longshot for snaps.
Projected starter: 1. Latavius Murray
Backups: 2. DeAndre Washington; 3. Taiwan Jones; 4. Roy Helu
2016 Outlook: Despite some of the fantasy hate that Latavius Murray has received, he still finished 2015 as fantasy's RB10 in standard scoring with over 1,000 rushing yards, six touchdowns and shouldered an extremely high volume workload (307 total touches). Because of that insane volume, he can still be safely drafted as an RB2 this season since the Raiders don't seem to have many other significant options at the position. DeAndre Washington, a fifth-round rookie, may provide some deep sleeper value but isn't worth drafting in standard leagues … at least not at this point. Taiwan Jones and Roy Helu don't figure to have much of an impact for fantasy owners in this pass-heavy Oakland offense either. So really we're looking at Murray with volume-based upside and maybe taking a flier on Washington on draft day unless we see something else play out during training camp. Stay tuned.
Projected starter: 1. Ryan Mathews
Backups: 2. Darren Sproles; 3. Wendell Smallwood; 4. Kenjon Barner
2016 Outlook: Another team with a fresh coaching staff, the Eagles backfield will hopefully look much different than it did last season. Now that DeMarco Murray is gone, Ryan Mathews figures to get the first shot at featured back duties and can be drafted as an RB2 with upside for more if he can stay healthy. We've seen Mathews shoulder a full-season workload during his days as San Diego's lead back so we know he's capable of it. At age 33, Darren Sproles will factor in on passing downs but likely won't have much value otherwise. Some pundits believe that Wendell Smallwood, a rookie out of West Virginia, could push for snaps as part of a potential committee, but burning a draft pick on a question mark like him is risky business. Kenjon Barner has just 34 rush attempts to his name in two seasons, and is a mere afterthought in fantasy.
Projected starter: 1. Le'Veon Bell
Backups: 2. DeAngelo Williams; 3. Fitzgerald Toussaint; 4. Daryl Richardson
2016 Outlook:Le'Veon Bell is a no-doubt first round pick despite the fact that he's still making his way back from a gruesome knee injury which ended his 2015 campaign. His role in the Steelers offense is an important one, and the team uses him on all three downs and even splits him out wide on occasion. That kind of versatility is absolute gold in fantasy football. Behind Bell, veteran DeAngelo Williams looms as a solid backup presence who, as we saw last season, can still put up huge numbers when called upon. Anyone who drafts Bell must target Williams later in drafts as one of the most valuable handcuffs in the game. Beyond those top two, nobody's really worth owning from the Pittsburgh backfield for fantasy purposes.
San Diego Chargers:
Projected starter: 1. Melvin Gordon
Backups: 2. Danny Woodhead; 3. Branden Oliver; 4. Dreamius Smith
2016 Outlook: It would make sense to peg Melvin Gordon for a bounce-back year following a disappointing rookie campaign in which he failed to score a single touchdown on 217 total touches. That's a difficult feat to accomplish. But Gordon underwent microfracture surgery on his knee in January, which rightfully raised some red flags. He's not yet back to full strength and likely won't be until training camp begins -- at least that's the hope. With a Round 7 ADP he carries minimal risk for a guy who is the projected early down back, but it's understandable to be hesitant with Gordon. Danny Woodhead excelled last season due to the decimated state of the Chargers wide receiver corps and the fact that the team was playing catch up so frequently. Woodhead actually out-snapped Gordon in 2015 by a large margin and was far and away the better option in fantasy. Woodhead's role will likely remain the same and he'll have more value in PPR formats, but his touchdown upside warrants drafting in standard leagues too, just a few rounds later. Woodhead caught more passes (81) and saw more targets (107) than any other running back in the NFL last year and converted those opportunities into 756 receiving yards and six touchdowns while adding 335 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. That production was enough for him to finish as the RB10 in standard scoring and while his scoring was somewhat inconsistent, he was the only reliable Chargers skill player fantasy owners could roll out other than Philip Rivers. Wooodhead's ninth-round asking price presents huge value for the upside he comes with. Branden Oliver and Dreamius Smith are better left undrafted for now.
San Francisco 49ers:
Projected starter: 1. Carlos Hyde
Backups: 2. Shaun Draughn; 3. Mike Davis; 4. Kelvin Taylor
2016 Outlook: Under the guidance of Chip Kelly, we're going to see a brand new look on offense for the 49ers, and Carlos Hyde should be the centerpiece of that system. There have been some debates on whether or not Hyde fits Kelly's fast-paced scheme, but he (like many other players) worked to shed some weight this offseason so he can keep up. Another tidbit that makes Hyde a great back to target in the middle rounds is his potentially increased role in the passing game. Kelly recently praised Hyde for his work as a receiver in minicamp and said he wants to get him more involved in that aspect. With just 23 receptions over two seasons, an uptick in targets would be a major boon for his fantasy value. The one thing to watch out for with Hyde is his durability. His 2015 campaign was cut short because of a foot injury that required surgery. He's fully recovered from that now, and looks like he's shaping up to be a huge bargain in drafts if his ADP holds steady in the Round 4-5 range. As for Shaun Draughn, Kelvin Taylor and Mike Davis, we're not quite ready to endorse any of these guys as fantasy options just yet. Draughn got some run late last year and was a halfway decent flex option for a couple of weeks. Rookie Kelvin Taylor is a smaller back with quickness but lacks the power to be an early-down candidate. Beyond that, it's hard to envision anyone besides Hyde bringing value to your fantasy squad unless something drastic happens. So pencil Hyde in as a top RB2 target and forget about the rest.
Projected starter: 1. Thomas Rawls
Backups: 2. C.J. Prosise; 3. Christine Michael; 4. Alex Collins
2016 Outlook: With Marshawn Lynch out of the picture, there are snaps up for grabs in the Seattle backfield. Thomas Rawls, who burst onto the scene last season as an UDFA really shined in place of an injured Lynch and was one of the top waiver-wire adds of the season. That is until he broke his ankle in December and was out for the remainder of the season. Rawls is working his way back from that injury and Seattle "hopes" he will be ready to go in Week 1, but that's not certain. So the team went ham in the draft, picked up three rookie runners and re-acquired Christine Michael. Personally, I'm on the C.J. Prosise hype train. When I profiled him for our Prospect-A-Day series leading up to the draft, I loved his skill set and knew he had the potential to be a fantasy stud. As a converted slot receiver who was Notre Dame's feature back in 2015, Prosise's versatility separates him from other rookie backs. And coach Pete Carroll is already on record basically drooling over the third-round pick's unique skill set. He's probably the best bet for fantasy points behind Rawls and Prosise's skills as a pass-catcher make him an interesting grab in PPR formats in the mid-to-late rounds. We saw Michael get shuffled around a bit last year but he did produce in the final few weeks for the Seahawks, so he could battle for touches in camp this summer. Alex Collins is another rookie Seattle drafted in the fifth round and has as good a chance as any of these guys listed here to work his way up the depth chart in training camp. Draft these backs knowing that this a full blown position battle which we may not see ironed out until a few weeks into the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Projected starter: 1. Doug Martin
Backups: 2. Charles Sims; 3. Mike James; 4. Storm Johnson; 5. Peyton Barber
2016 Outlook: Last season in Tampa Bay, we saw Doug Martin bounce back following a few disappointing years along with the emergence of Charles Sims as a legitimate PPR/flex option. The one-two punch in the Bucs' backfield is up there with the best in fantasy and both of these guys need to be owned across the board. As it stands now, Martin is a late second-early third rounder, and seeing as he was fantasy's RB3 last season that seems like a bargain. This will be Tampa Bay's second season in Dirk Koetter's system and quarterback Jameis Winston's year of experience should help the offense be more productive as a whole. You should be able to draft Sims in the later rounds as a change-of-pace back with some upside in PPR formats, and he'll be a plug-and-play handcuff to Martin should he miss any time. The other backups here don't hold much fantasy value, if any, but could become waiver wire options in the case of an injury.
Projected starter: 1. DeMarco Murray
Backups: 2. Derrick Henry; 3. Dexter McCluster; 4. Antonio Andrews; 5. David Cobb
2016 Outlook: When the Titans acquired DeMarco Murray in an offseason trade, his fantasy stock shot up. Then, when the team drafted the beastly and athletic Derrick Henry, Murray's fantasy stock took a hit, and is now hovering somewhere in Round 5. He should start the season as the lead back for the Titans and for that reason, he's worth risking a fifth-rounder on. But some are skeptical of his ability to produce after a down year in Philadelphia and believe that Henry could overtake the starting role if Murray struggles. This could also end up as a committee situation as a recent report cited that the "hot hand" approach will be used. For fantasy purposes, that is far from ideal. That alone will keep Murray's ADP in the middle rounds throughout the summer and should keep Henry's in the double-digit rounds, where he's at now. Dexter McCluster is also lurking but he's nothing more than a third-down specialist while Antonio Andrews, David Cobb and Bishop Sankey (yes he is still on the roster) may never see the field unless there's an injury situation ahead of them. Murray and Henry are the only two worth selecting in redraft leagues this year, but it's hard to say what kind of value they will bring to your squad.
Projected starter: 1. Matt Jones
Backups: 2. Chris Thompson; 3. Keith Marshall; 4. Mack Brown
2016 Outlook: Washington cut ties with Alfred Morris in the offseason opening the door for second-year back Matt Jones to lead the way. As a rookie, Jones flashed some big-play ability, but had major issues with ball security and was extremely inconsistent with his production. Still, he's an upside play based on volume alone and could return RB2 value if he gets his fumbling issues taken care of, which he has allegedly been working on. Since it's tough to find anything positive to say about Jones from a statistical perspective based on his first season, his ADP is hovering in Round 5. If he proves he can hold onto the ball there will be plenty of volume upside here, but also lurking behind him is shifty third-down specialist Chris Thompson. As the third man on the totem in a frustrating rotation last season, Thompson piled up 456 scrimmage yards on 70 touches and two scores. He did go under the knife this offseason to repair a shoulder injury, so we won't see him at full speed until training camp begins in July. Thompson still projects as the No. 2 back behind Jones and is an interesting late-round option if you're looking for depth at the position or want insurance for Jones. Keith Marshall is a rookie out of Georgia who struggled with injuries during college but still posted impressive speed at the combine. He has a shot to carve out some playing time if Jones can't hold onto the ball or gets off to a slow start. But beyond the deepest of leagues Marshall is probably better left undrafted until we see how things play out in camp.