When I told my Fantasy Stronghold colleagues that I was going to try to make a case against taking Ezekiel Elliott in the first round because he hasn't played a single snap in the NFL, I was promptly instructed to "delete your account." I succumbed to the notion that Zeke's upside is just too high to overlook as a late-first round running back and decided to poke around elsewhere for overvalued running backs.
For the most part, the players on this list are guys that I have personally been avoiding in mock drafts all summer (okay you got me: I took Rawls in a mock a few weeks back only because it was the end of Round 5 and I couldn't let him fall any further). I plan on continuing to avoid these running backs when the real draft season is underway later in August, as well. Keep in mind that much can change once training camp gets underway. Players' average draft positions will likely fluctuate once more casual, non-degenerate types begin firing up botgh mock and real drafts rooms.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
ADP: RB6 on NFL.com, RB8 on FantasyPros.com
When the 2015 fantasy season came to a close, Devonta Freeman's performance as the RB1 overall had him in the conversation as a fringe first-round pick in early mocks for the 2016 campaign. But life comes at you fast in the NFL, and things changed over the last few months regarding Freeman's value for the upcoming season.
Last year, Freeman was the only player in the NFL to accumulate over 1,000 rushing yards and record over 500 receiving yards. He also was responsible for 14 total touchdowns-a 41.2 percent share of Atlanta's total scrimmage touchdowns, the highest rate in the NFL.
Since Freeman's ADP peaked in early April, it's been on a steady decline as the months rolled on. Folks have the name Tevin Coleman returning to memory and reports emerged from Atlanta's coaching staff that the team would like to reduce Freeman's workload this year. Seeing as Freeman shouldered a ridiculous 334 total touches a season ago, some regression is baked into his value, but he's still considered a top 10 fantasy running back in most circles.
Coleman, a second-year back, actually began last year as Atlanta's starting running back following what was a heated competition throughout training camp and preseason games. He was off to a decent start too, logging 20 carries for 80 yards in Week 1. His season was halted when he suffered a rib injury in Week 2 which led to Freeman's opportunity to be the bell cow-an opportunity he evidently made the most of.
But heading into the upcoming season, Atlanta's running backs coach Bobby Turner has said that he'd like to reduce Freeman's workload to keep him fresh, which makes sense considering his statistical slowdown down the stretch last year. If the Falcons can find ways to get Coleman into space where he's most effective, it should benefit both backs in the long run. Unfortunately fewer opportunities for Freeman means he gets knocked down the fantasy ranks a few rungs. Turner said that he wants the duo to compete, which is a natural strategy when coaches are trying to get the most out of their players-a little competition should drive each of them to be better, even if it means fewer opportunities on Freeman's end.
It's not out of the question to see a 60-40 split in terms of touches for Freeman and Coleman, respectively. If that happens, both backs will have value in fantasy. The duo combined for 423 total touches last season, 78 percent of which went to Freeman. If that same amount of touches (hypothetically) balances out to the aforementioned 60-40 range this year, that leaves approximately 253.8 total touches for Freeman (81 fewer that last year) and 169.2 for Coleman. That puts Freeman in the low-end RB1, high-end RB2 range rather than being more at the top end of the RB1 conversation.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
ADP: RB21 on NFL.com, RB13 on FantasyPros.com
Thomas Rawls recently said that he will "definitely" be a full go by the start of training camp and that his recovery from a busted ankle is proceeding "phenomenally." Three weeks ago the "hope" was that he'd be ready to play by Week 1 so it sounds like progress is being made. Regardless of his health today, or in three weeks from now Rawls is still overvalued in fantasy football.
Rawls had a league-leading 5.6 yards per carry average (minimum 110 carries) and in his seven starts, he averaged 108 rushing yards per game. During those seven starts, Rawls recorded 132 rush attempts or 69 percent of Seattle's backfield carries (not including Russell Wilson's 42 rushes). Of his 132 carries, a mere eight of them were on third downs and he wasn't targeted as a receiver a single time on third downs.
Even if Rawls is 100 percent healthy at the start of the season it's clear that Seattle is going to employ a committee backfield and plans use a specialized back on third downs. Coach Pete Carroll was vocal about versatile rookie C.J. Prosise being that guy. More recently, it was reported that rookie Alex Collins may compete for "immediate playing time" according to the Seattle Times. One more knock against the case for Rawls is the fact that Seattle's offensive line isn't what it used to be. In fact, ProFootballFocus has the Seahawks' o-line ranked 32nd in the NFL for the upcoming season. That means the team may lean on the passing game more so than we've seen them do in past seasons, which doesn't bode well for Rawls' outlook at his current asking price in fantasy drafts.
Matt Forte, New York Jets
ADP: RB13 on NFL.com, RB14 on FantasyPros.com
As I mentioned above, Matt Forte parted ways with the Chicago Bears this offseason after eight solid years. Forte has been a perennially elite fantasy running back, but his production declined over the past three seasons. His seven touchdowns last year marked a career low after scoring 10 in 2013, and 12 in 2013. He also missed three games with an MCL sprain. The wear and tear on his body may finally be starting to rear its ugly head as he enters his age-30 season with the Jets. He's amassed 2,035 rush attempts and 487 receptions during his career and if his new team is wise, they will look to manage his workload in an effort to keep him fresh for a potential playoff run.
It's already been speculated that Forte will "split snaps" in New York this year with the explosive and efficient Bilal Powell. The Jets have good depth at running back with Khiry Robinson, Zac Stacy and Tommy Bohanon lower on the depth chart totem too. The New York Post predicts "plenty of rest" for Forte-something that could benefit him in the long run but would be a concern for fantasy owners hoping for RB2 type numbers for the veteran. As it stands now, Forte is being drafted too high for an aging veteran with knee concerns who will likely see his workload decline from what we're used to seeing in Chicago. So don't draft him as a top 15 back thinking you're getting RB1 value. While your leaguemates reach for Forte in the fourth-round you can feel confident securing RB1 upside from guys like C.J. Anderson and Carlos Hyde in that same range.
Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears
ADP: RB18 on NFL.com RB22 on FantasyPros.com
Chicago parted ways with veteran iron-man and perennial elite performer Matt Forte this offseason leaving the Bears starting running back job up for grabs. Candidates for the gig include second-year back Jeremy Langford, rookie addition Jordan Howard (a candidate for early-down and short-yardage work), third-year back Ka'Deem Carey (started one game last year) and career backup Jacquizz Rodgers.
Langford likely gets the first crack at the starting role, but there is little doubt that the Bears' backfield will be a frustrating committee rotation throughout the season. Phrases like "hot hand" have already been used by coach John Fox in terms of his plan for the backfield. It makes sense seeing as all of the running backs in Chicago have different skill sets, so the coaching staff will look to play into each of their strengths depending on situational factors.
Despite his struggles as a rookie, Langford still received double-digit rush attempts for eight straight games in Weeks 8-16 last year whilst filling in for an injured Forte. Langford played a big role on offense once the veteran returned too. But on FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Langford is being drafted at the end of Round 4 in 12-team leagues. Are you willing to invest a valuable middle-round pick in a backfield situation that has been referred to as "hell for fantasy owners?" Didn't think so.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
ADP: RB20 on NFL.com, RB17 on FantasyPros.com
Given his huge workload last year (266 carries and 41 receptions), you'd think Murray would have provided greater dividends for his fantasy owners. To his credit, he was one of just seven backs to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark as the Raiders featured back last year and finished as the RB10 in standard leagues. But his production was dappled and he became somewhat of a matchup-based option in fantasy averaging 10.23 fantasy points per game (for context, Freeman averaged over 16 FPPG in standard scoring). He collected just two 100-yard rushing games during the season and had just six double-digit fantasy outings, all of which were games that he scored touchdowns in.
Murray's three best games fantasy-wise were against defenses that struggled against running backs: One against Cleveland and two against San Diego (one of which was in Week 17). He also recorded eight games with two or fewer receptions and totaled just 232 receiving yards for the season which ranked him outside the top 30 in receiving yards among running backs.
The Raiders selected DeAndre Washington in the draft in April to create some competition behind Murray. Washington could emerge as a third-down guy to siphon some of those passing-down looks from his veteran teammate this year. Washington has already been compared to Doug Martin and possesses great speed, agility and soft hands out of the backfield. His smaller build is a concern but he could definitely be used as a change-of-pace guy if Oakland is looking to lighten Murray's workload.
My case against Murray is less about his floor, which was about five points last season, and more about his upside. Fantasy owners need more than six touchdowns out of a guy who handles the ball 300-plus times in a season. And now that there is an explosive candidate to take away third-down looks in Washington, we could see Murray's workload and output diminish in 2016.