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 2016 campaign. Based on what we've seen in camp and preseason action, below are projected depth charts and outlooks for the top backs on each team, and the next man (or men) up should someone get injured.
During the regular season, this column will become "Committee Meetings" every Monday to recap the week that was among running backs and to preview the outlook for the upcoming week.
Projected starter: 1. David Johnson
Backups: 2. Chris Johnson; 3. Andre Ellington; 4. Stepfan Taylor
2016 Outlook: Once David Johnson took over as the Cardinals bell cow last season in Week 13, he collected a 79 percent share of running back carries through the rest of the regular season. Johnson is a no-brainer first-round pick in all fantasy formats as he'll be the team's workhorse from the get-go this year with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington likely to play a complementary role behind him. 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 potential 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. Brandon Wilds
2016 Outlook: Why is last season's top-scoring fantasy running back available in the middle of the second round of drafts this year? Good question. Most of that has to do with the fact that the Falcons' coaching staff has said they want to incorporate Tevin Coleman more often in an effort to preserve Freeman for the entire season. Still, Devonta Freeman is Atlanta's go-to back in red-zone and goal-line situations, which makes him a nice value considering his ADP. Coleman will cut into Freeman's workload some, but it shouldn't be enough to deter fantasy owners from investing in the Falcons' primary back. Freeman, who was targeted 97 times as a pass-catcher last season, remains one of the top picks at running back in PPR formats and if you can snag him in Round 2 of a standard league, consider it a win.
Projected starter: 1. Justin Forsett
Backups: 2. Terrance West; 3. Javorius Allen; 4. Lorenzo Taliaferro
2016 Outlook: Justin Forsett, who will turn 31 in October, projects as Baltimore's starting running back to open the year which makes his Round 10 ADP seem like quite a bargain. But the veteran has a few hungry teammates creeping up behind him and pushing for touches. Before Forsett went down with a broken arm last year, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 10 games but scored only two touchdowns leaving fantasy owners who invested an early-round pick in him 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 depleted by injuries. But this preseason, Allen worked behind a surprisingly resurgent Terrance West who projects to be Forsett's No. 1 backup and may even usurp the starting role at some point during the year based on a strong showing in camp and exhibition game action. Rookie Kenneth Dixon suffered an MCL tear in the Ravens' third preseason game, so he will miss at least the first month of the season and should not be on the redraft radar. The bottom line here is if you're messing with any Ravens' running back in fantasy, you're playing with fire. It's probably going to be one of the more confusing situations in the league and none of these backs are worth more than a double-digit round dart throw.
Projected starter: 1. LeSean McCoy
Backups: 2. Reggie Bush; 3. Mike Gillislee; 4. Jonathan Williams
2016 Outlook: A hamstring injury limited Shady's production early last season, but he did manage to produce some solid weeks for owners who stuck with him. With Karlos Williams out of the picture now, McCoy projects for a huge workload in Buffalo's run-first offense. He's healthy and has the potential to post RB1 numbers at a second-round cost. Bush may spell McCoy in certain situations but isn't worth a draft investment. Mike Gillislee should serve as McCoy's primary backup and showed some flashes late last season. In fact, in the final five games of 2015, Gillislee averaged 5.6 yards per carry taking his 47 rushes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He's worth a late-round dart throw given McCoy's injury history. 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 these backs to get theirs.
Projected starter: 1. Jonathan Stewart
Backups: 2. Fozzy Whittaker; 3. Cameron Artis-Payne; 4. Brandon Wegher
2016 Outlook: Last year, Cam Newton accounted for a third of the Panthers' rushing yards. Jonathan Stewart received 53 percent of the team's rush attempts and for the most part was quietly consistent from a fantasy perspective. In the 13 games in which he was healthy, Stewart never saw fewer than 10 rush attempts and went on an insane eight-game streak where he received 20 or more carries between Weeks 6 and 13. He's still the only running back you'll want from this team in fantasy but as always, his ceiling will be limited due to the way Newton is used as a goal-line vulture as evidenced by J-Stew's six rushing touchdowns compared to Newton's 10 in 2015. Stewart is currently a Round 5 pick, going ahead of players with more upside like Jeremy Hill and Melvin Gordon. If Stewart were to miss time, which he's been known to do, Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne would likely split the workload. The backups in Carolina are best left on the waiver wire.
Projected starter: 1. Jeremy Langford
Backups: 2. Ka'Deem Carey; 3. Jacquizz Rodgers; 4. Jordan Howard
2016 Outlook: From what we've seen in the preseason, the primary back job in Chicago seems like Jeremy Langford's to lose. He's worked in the most with the Bears' first-team offense and received some valuable red-zone opportunities. Ka'deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jordan Howard will likely go undrafted in most leagues. Despite Howard's size, he has struggled to make a splash as a reliable goal-line option. Since earlier in the spring, Langford's ADP has plummeted into a more reasonable Round 7 range. There is a chance that Chicago's offense is just plain inefficient, so tread with caution when looking to select Langford. He's no more than an RB3 option until we see more from him during the regular season. Carey and Rodgers may rotate in, but their volume will not be enough to warrant a fantasy roster spot.
Projected starter: 1. Jeremy Hill
Backups: 2. Giovani Bernard; 3. Rex Burkhead; 4. Cedric Peerman
2016 Outlook: Over the past two seasons, no running back duo in the NFL has been more productive than Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. The Cincinnati tandem ranks first in combined carries (767), rush yards (3,328), rushing touchdowns (27) and scrimmage yards (4,443) since 2014. And while both backs have received similar volume in that span -- Hill has averaged 15.2 touches per game while Bernard has averaged 14.3 -- Hill gets the nod as the better fantasy asset due to his nose for the end zone with 21 total touchdowns compared to Bernard's nine. In fact, Hill leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (20) since he entered the league in 2014. If you were one of those fantasy owners who got burned by Hill last year, it makes sense if you're looking elsewhere for running back production. But he's been slipping in drafts, has had a promising preseason and looks like a more confident and decisive runner. At this point, he's a huge value with fringe RB1 upside. For fantasy owners looking to find mid-round value backs with safe floors, Bernard should be your first option. His 1,200 scrimmage yards last year helped him become a consistent weekly play as a flex option. However, he only scored two touchdowns, the lowest of his career. He's bound to find the end zone a few more times this season, and with a lack of other targets in the passing game, is likely to see plenty of targets as a receiver. He's not a goal-line back but the Bengals have gone to him in longer-yardage red zone situations and he's made the most of those opportunities.
Projected starter: 1. Isaiah Crowell
Backups: 2. Duke Johnson; 3. Raheem Mostert; 4. Terrell Watson
2016 Outlook: We haven't gained much clarity this preseason in terms of the Browns backfield split between Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. It's likely going to shape up the way we thought it would all offseason -- Crowell is the early-down banger and goal-line back, while Johnson works in on passing downs and may be used on the outside as a receiver. Both Johnson and Crowell come as value picks this season with Round 8 and Round 10 ADPs, respectively, in standard formats. 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. If he falters early on, Cleveland could give Johnson a shot as a three-down back, but Johnson's ceiling in standard formats is lowered unless that happens.
Projected starter: 1. Ezekiel Elliott
Backups: 2. Alfred Morris; 3. Darren McFadden; 4. Darius Jackson
2016 Outlook: We already know that Zeke is a first-round pick in fantasy drafts this year. He only solidified that status after a shining performance in his preseason debut against Seattle where he ripped off several runs for nice gains, even running into Kam Chancellor without trepidation. Now that Tony Romo is due to miss time, Dallas could lean on Zeke even more than we originally thought. Elliott does it all and has the skill set to remain on the field for all three downs -- something that is becoming rarer these days in the NFL. Behind Zeke, Alfred Morris is probably the No. 2 with McFadden slipping due to an offseason injury. Zeke is the only Dallas running back that should be on your draft radar.
Projected starter: 1. C.J. Anderson
Backups: 2. Ronnie Hillman; 3. Devontae Booker; 4. Kapri Bibbs
2016 Outlook: Denver paid up in the offseason to keep C.J. Anderson and will likely feed him the ball as their primary back early and often this season. With a questionable quarterback situation, the Broncos could lean on the run game to manage the clock. Anderson is a value pick currently being drafted at the end of Round 3 in standard formats. Ronnie Hillman remains Denver's No. 2 back on the team's official website, but there have been strong reports about rookie Devontae Booker. One of Booker's strengths is as a pass catcher, so his versatility in that aspect is valuable. The rookie will probably push Hillman for the No. 2 job as the season progresses and is worth a bench stash for now. If you end up drafting Hillman, you're doing it wrong.
Projected starter: 1. Ameer Abdullah
Backups: 2. Theo Riddick; 3. Zach Zenner; 4. George Winn
2016 Outlook: Ameer 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 9 ADP. An offseason report that Theo Riddick could be more involved as a runner between the tackles may have been realistic as he has seen 14 rush attempts in the preseason. Still, you'll want to shy away from Riddick save for PPR formats -- don't forget that he hauled in 80 receptions on 99 targets just a season ago. Second-year bruiser Zach Zenner missed most of last season with upper body injuries but is healthy heading into 2016. 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 committee here. For now, you'll want to target Abdullah as he's been slipping in drafts and is a value as a bench RB4 given his volume potential. It's still hard to imagine him scoring more than five or six touchdowns which will limit his ceiling.
Green Bay Packers:
Projected starter: 1. Eddie Lacy
Backups: 2. James Starks; 3. John Crockett; 4. Brandon Burks
2016 Outlook:Eddie Lacy is a big man, but he did some work to slim down this offseason and looks like the 2014 version of Lacy we all knew and loved. The dude just trucks through defenders and can rip off huge chunks of yardage once he gets chugging. He's also built for goal-line work, so no concerns there and is capable of catching passes which would mean he's a candidate for work on all three downs. Considering that the Packers offense should be one of the more high-scoring squads in the NFL this year, Lacy feels like a great value at his current late Round 2/early Round 3 ADP, especially in a contract year. James Starks remains in the picture as well and will play a complementary role behind Lacy. It's hard to imagine seeing Starks having fantasy relevance as long as Lacy is healthy, so he'll probably remain a waiver wire guy in most standard leagues. With the return of Jordy Nelson and a healthy Randall Cobb to open things up downfield, the Packers run game could be a nice surprise this season.
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. Josh Ferguson
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. 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, but he has led the team in preseason rush attempts through three games. 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. Corey Grant
2016 Outlook: So far in preseason action, the Jaguars backfield split between T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory has gone as we thought it would. Ivory has six rush attempts in the red zone compared to Yeldon's one. We sort of figured Ivory would be the red-zone guy for Jacksonville, so that gives him more touchdown upside even if he is splitting the workload. Yeldon is a shiftier back with better pass-catching skills and that's exactly the role he's set up for. Yeldon has actually been more efficient with his rush attempts during the preseason than Ivory has, with the second-year back averaging seven yards per rush compared to three for the veteran. Yeldon is currently the cheaper option in drafts going about two full rounds later than Ivory. Still, it's tough to tell who will be the better option on a weekly basis. You might be better off stashing both of these guys until we gain additional clarity in the regular season. Due to their respective upside, both are worth drafting at their current cost.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Projected starter: 1. Jamaal Charles
Backups: 2. Spencer Ware; 3. Charcandrick West; 4. Knile Davis
2016 Outlook: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. As for Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, who both re-upped their contracts in Kansas City, only Ware warrants a late-round pick. He's scored three goal-line touchdowns in preseason action, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him remain in that role once the regular season starts. For now, Charles is the clear-cut No. 1 and is far and away the best option in this backfield. Take the news that Charles might not start Week 1 with a grain of salt here ... he's still an elite fantasy running back and when he's on the field he will produce.
Los Angeles Rams:
Projected starter: 1. Todd Gurley
Backups: 2. Benny Cunningham; 3. Malcolm Brown; 4. Terrence Magee
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 in the first round of fantasy drafts. Arguably the most talented running back in the league, Gurley should be fed at least 20 carries per game. With a less-than-exciting outlook in terms of a passing attack, the Rams will have to lean on the run to have a real shot at staying competitive. 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. Benny Cunningham is the next man up should Gurley have to miss time, but there are other handcuffs worth drafting over any of the Rams backups.
Projected starter: 1. Jay Ajayi
Backups: 2. Arian Foster; 3. Isaiah Pead; 4. Damien Williams
2016 Outlook: From what we've seen from Miami's offensive line play this preseason, you might be better off shying away from both Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster in fantasy drafts this season. The backs will unpredictably rotate drives, with Foster (while he's healthy) being the favorite for red-zone work early on. If you do draft Foster, you're also drafting his high injury risk, so keep that in mind. If you draft Ajayi, you'll be getting the better values in terms of ADP. Still, it's probably wise to let these backs be someone else's headache. Unless one of them misses significant time it's going to be a weekly guessing game between the two.
Projected starter: 1. Adrian Peterson
Backups: 2. Jerick McKinnon; 3. Matt Asiata; 4. C.J. Ham
2016 Outlook: Even at age 31, Adrian Peterson is a first-round fantasy pick, though in some leagues you might be able to get him in Round 2. He worked on improving is his route-running to become a more complete back this offseason, so we may see him stay on the field for more third downs (he only played on 23 percent of his team's third downs in 2015). You have to love his work ethic and desire to keep improving but considering his age, the Vikings coaching staff could look to manage his touches a bit more this season which means 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, who has looked great in preseason action, 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. There are definitely worse things than ending up with Peterson on your fantasy squad, even if he's no longer the sexiest looking name to roster.
New England Patriots:
Projected starter: 1. LeGarrette Blount
Backups: 2. James White; 3. Brandon Bolden; 4. Dion Lewis*
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, we can provide some insight into how things are shaping up as we look ahead to Week 1. Well, things would have been easier if Dion Lewis was 100 percent healthy, but he's not and the team placed him on the PUP list rendering him out until at least Week 7. He'll obviously slip into the very late rounds of drafts because of this, and it's worth wondering if Lewis is even worth a bench stash. With Lewis out, LeGarrette Blount is the de facto "starter" but should be drafted with the caveat that he won't be an effective fantasy running back on a weekly basis because of his touchdown dependency. James White is now a popular name in PPR formats as a deep sleeper but again, we're talking about Patriots' running backs here. Tread with caution on draft day and don't invest too much in any of these guys.
New Orleans Saints:
Projected starter: 1. Mark Ingram
Backups: 2. Tim Hightower; 3. C.J. Spiller; 4. Marcus Murphy
2016 Outlook: Mark Ingram's late Round 2/early Round 3 ADP makes him a solid value pick in the early rounds as he presents RB1 upside if he can stay healthy and start a full 16 games (something he's never done). Ingram received 62 percent of the Saints' rush attempts through the 13 games he played last year -- just below the threshold of what we'd consider a high-level, workhorse-type workload of 70 percent of the team's carries. That kind of volume is becoming rarer in the NFL. If you're feeling lucky, C.J. Spiller is still hanging out in New Orleans. He's no more than a last-round dart throw but may have a more prominent role as a pass-catching back than you think. Tim Hightower remains the No. 2 for handcuff purposes and would likely slide into the early-down role if Ingram does miss time. For now, Ingram is the guy you'll want here while Spiller and Hightower remain waiver-wire guys.
New York Giants:
Projected starter: 1. Rashad Jennings
Backups: 2. Shane Vereen; 3. Andre Williams; 4. Paul Perkins
2016 Outlook: From what we've heard this summer, the Giants are going to (thankfully) stray from the headache-inducing four-headed committee the team employed last season. That is good news, especially for Rashad Jennings who is a ridiculous bargain right now in Round 9. He's in line for the early-down role and will likely be the go-to guy in red-zone situations too, as he was last year with 46 percent of the team's carries inside the 20. Shane Vereen is a late-round option in PPR formats but he's never going to be a between-the-tackles guy, so his ceiling will be limited because of that. Andre Williams, for some reason, is still on the roster and could vulture some goal-line touches from Jennings, but he's not worth a draft pick.
New York Jets:
Projected starter: 1. Matt Forte
Backups: 2. Bilal Powell; 3. Khiry Robinson; 4. Zac Stacy
2016 Outlook: Several reports from Jets camp this summer have hinted at "split" workloads between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell this season. It makes sense given Forte's resume has over 2,000 career rush attempts on it, and it's reasonable to assume he may have lost a step at age 30. Forte will be the starter, so a Round 4 asking price seems like a deal. But you have to wonder how much upside he offers if this is going to be a timeshare. Powell is the Jets running back to target later in drafts as he offers a solid weekly floor with his pass-catching abilities and you can get him in Round 13 on average. Powell emerged as a real flex option last year averaging 4.5 yards per carry while seeing 63 targets as a pass-catcher. He should retain that same role again for the New York backfield with some additional looks as a runner. 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. Zac Stacy is a longshot for fantasy relevance.
Projected starter: 1. Latavius Murray
Backups: 2. Taiwan Jones; 3. DeAndre Washington 4. Jalen Richard
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 and six touchdowns while shouldering an extremely high workload (307 total touches). At one point this summer a report came out that the Raiders coaches want to get Murray even more carries this year. But with rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard making noise in preseason action, it's worth wondering if Murray's workload will decrease some after carrying 88 percent of his team's running back rush attempts a season ago. Washington is the favorite as the No. 2 behind Murray and he presents some deep sleeper value with a possible change-of-pace role. Nobody else in this backfield is worth a look for fantasy purposes.
Projected starter: 1. Ryan Mathews
Backups: 2. Darren Sproles; 3. Kenjon Barner; 4. Wendell Smallwood
2016 Outlook:Ryan Mathews is the primary back here and has volume upside as a Round 5 pick in fantasy drafts. Unfortunately, Mathews is not the most durable player so you won't be selecting him as anything more than a low-end RB2 or flex guy. He's capable of shouldering a full-season workload if he can stay healthy. Darren Sproles may play a bigger role than many think since he's the second-best back on this roster, even at age 33. We know what he can do as a pass-catcher but there's a chance he's rotated in more often than his Round 14 ADP suggests. Sproles is worth a late-round flier to stash on your bench in case Mathews misses time or Sproles simply has a bigger role than forecasted.
Projected starter: 1. Le'Veon Bell*
Backups: 2. DeAngelo Williams; 3. Fitzgerald Toussaint; 4. Daryl Richardson
2016 Outlook: Draft Le'Veon Bell with the caveat that he's going to miss the first three weeks. He's still going as a second-rounder because when he plays, he's hands down the best running back in fantasy football. 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. He'll be Pittsburgh's starter for the three weeks that Bell is out serving his suspension. Suspension or not, 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. Dreamius Smith; 4. Kenneth Farrow
2016 Outlook: From what we've seen from him in the preseason, Melvin Gordon looks ready to break out in a big way this year. Because of his strong performance in exhibition games, his ADP is creeping up into Round 6. He comes with a 200-touch guarantee which makes him a ridiculous bargain as late as he's being drafted. There seem to be no lingering ill effects from his microfracture procedure and he looks like a more decisive runner, even earning some targets as a receiver too. Another worry with the Chargers' run game is the poor offensive line. But the unit was banged up for the majority of last season, and they're healthy now. 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 (80) and saw more targets (106) 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. His total numbers may regress some this season because the other offensive weapons are healthy, but he still feels like a bargain in Round 9 in standard scoring.
San Francisco 49ers:
Projected starter: 1. Carlos Hyde
Backups: 2. Shaun Draughn; 3. DuJuan Harris; 4. Mike Davis
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. He's been targeted four times in three preseason games but hasn't been able to haul in a reception yet. That blame goes to the quarterback, though, not Hyde. 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, DuJuan Harris 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. Christine Michael; 3. C.J. Prosise; 4. Alex Collins
2016 Outlook: If you haven't heard about The Awakening yet this preseason, well you have some catching up to do. Christine Michael looks like a different player with newfound maturity and has been praised by teammates and coaches all summer and will have a definite role. Thomas Rawls, who's still recovering from last season's broken ankle, will likely be the team's lead back in what's shaping up as a committee with rookie C.J. Prosise also in the mix. Consider this a warning that if you're drafting Rawls at his current Round 3 ADP to be your RB2/the second coming of Marshawn Lynch, you're going to be disappointed. Seattle's backfield is a committee, plain and simple. Rawls should still lead the team in carries and be the starter as long as he's healthy but Michael and Prosise will be worked in. And if Rawls has to miss any time, Michael has been groomed to be the starter based on what we've seen from him in the preseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Projected starter: 1. Doug Martin
Backups: 2. Charles Sims; 3. Mike James; 4. 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 double-digit 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
2016 Outlook: The Titans' running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry has been impressive in preseason action. Both backs have collected over 150 rush yards and two touchdowns apiece. Fantasy owners will have to pay more for Murray given his Round 5 cost, while Henry is going on average in Round 10. I've said it on the NFL Fantasy Live Podcast, and have posted on Twitter that I want to draft Henry on every single fantasy team of mine this season. All it takes is one look at him moving a pile, using his height to go get a pass, or seeing his lateral quickness in the open field to understand how special of a player he is. Yes, Murray will be the primary back and as the veteran will get the first crack as the starter, but Henry is going to get his too. And if you own Henry in a dynasty league, more power to you.
Projected starter: 1. Matt Jones*
Backups: 2. Chris Thompson; 3. Robert Kelley 4. Mack Brown
2016 Outlook:Matt Jones suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason, so the team has shut him down until Week 1, and even then his status is unclear. The fantasy community was already shying away from Jones before his injury, so now his ADP will likely sink even further below his current Round 7 price. Chris Thompson will work in on third downs and pass-catching situations and is worth a late-round flyer given what should be a safe weekly floor, especially in PPR formats. Last year, Thompson played more third down snaps than any other Washington running back with a 46 percent share. Behind him, Robert Kelley is getting a chance with Keith Marshall out on IR with a torn ligament in his elbow. Kelley could have a role if Jones can't get healthy or suffers any setbacks before the season starts. Still, Kelley is more of a waiver wire option, but one to keep a close eye on. We don't expect this backfield to be very reliable on a weekly basis, no matter who's getting the opportunities.
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