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Fantasy Running Back Forecasts

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The following is Gridiron Experts 2016 running back player forecasts.

The following is Gridiron Experts 2016 running back player forecasts. We decided to leave our projections off this page to give you an opportunity to review a players history without being swayed purely by numbers.

Table Key: 

  • G -Games Played
  • Att – Rushing attempts
  • Yds – Yards
  • TD – Touchdowns
  • Y/A – Rushing yards per Attempt
  • Y/ G – Rushing yards per game
  • A/G – Attempts per game
  • Tgt- Passing Targets
  • REC- Receptions

Todd Gurley

Los Angeles Rams | Age: 22


Todd GurleyDespite missing three games and playing on a team with a lackluster supporting cast, Gurley still rushed for 1,106 yards, 4.8 yards per tote and scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie. Gurley is a franchise-caliber back and the run-first Rams will run their offense through him. The only negatives on the second-year star are those six games in the brutal NFC West, and the lack of talent around him means that defenses will make stopping Gurley their primary focus. Gurley is absolutely worth consideration as the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy leagues, and only drops down a hair in PPR-formats. The “next Adrian Peterson” may already be here.

Le’Veon Bell

Pittsburgh Steelers | Age: 24



Bell’s suspension was reduced from four games to three, but he’s still a fringe Round 1 fantasy pick. If he were guaranteed to play a full 16-game slate, Bell would be our No. 1 overall player. The Steelers are one of the few teams that employee a full-time featured back and Bell’s receiving prowess make him a dangerous weapon. Entering a contract-year, Bell has a lot to prove beginning in Week 4. We still like the idea of grabbig him in your draft if you can get him near the bottom or Round 1 or top of Round 2.

David Johnson

Arizona Cardinals | Age: 24


David JohnsonIn his seven starts in 2015’s second half, Johnson averaged over 120 total yards and scored six touchdowns in a bell cow role. Even before that every-down role, Johnson showed a remarkable nose for the end zone, scoring as a rusher, receiver and returner. Arizona is one of the most talented teams in the league, and as long as Johnson is given a chance to command an every-down role, he’ll be a top-3 running back.

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys| Age: 21

The Cowboys as a team last season averaged 4.6 yards per carry and almost 1,900 rushing yards altogether. Behind a near perfect offensive line including Tyron Smith, Zach Martin, Doug Free, La’El Collins, and Travis Frederick, Elliott will have a field day working behind this unit. Because Elliott’s great pass protection skills, it’s possible that we see Elliott as the team’s three down back immediately and get receiving work as well as he had 55 receptions over his last two seasons at Ohio State.

Darren McFadden as the lead back last season had 40 receptions for over 300 yards last season, so the Cowboys will not be afraid to use their running back in the passing game. Let’s now look at some potential “rough” projections for Elliott in 2016.

When Darren McFadden became the starter in week seven for the Cowboys and finished out the remainder of the season as the starter, he had 202 carries in those 11 games. That averages out to 18.36 carries per game. But because the Cowboys relied heavily on the run game due to injuries with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, that number might be a bit inflated. So let’s say that Elliott gets 16 carries per week, that would equal out to 256 carries over the course of a 16 game season. 250 carries is nothing to cough at and would be a solid number for a rookie running back. Using that same 11 game stretch that McFadden had as the starter last season, he had 960 yards rushing on 202 carries. That would equal 4.75 yards per carry, which is a very good number considering how much the run game was the focal point for the Cowboys when Romo and Bryant were injured.Read Full Article

Adrian Peterson

Minnesota Vikings | Age: 31


Peterson, 31, is nearing the end of his brilliant career, but there appears to be plenty of juice still left to assure he’ll remain a formidable RB1. Peterson’s 1,485 rushing yards last season led the league, and his 4.5 yards per carry was in-line with his career average. AP will also continue to be the primary offensive option for a run-first Minnesota squad and should once again log double-digit touchdowns- a figure he’s eclipsed in every pro season except for 2014 where he was suspended. Peterson’s only drawback is his lack of involvement as an elite pass-catcher, but he’s still effective enough as a runner to comfortably command a first-round billing.

Lamar Miller

Houston Texans | Age: 25


Lamar Miller has been criminally under-utilized throughout his career in Miami. It might be fair to ask how that’s possible, but consider that Miller was the most-coveted free agent rusher and Joe Philibin is no longer a head coach and you’ll get closer to the league-wide consensus. Miller has exceeded 20 carries ONCE in his career, and averaged only 13 carries over the past two seasons, yet still finished 2015 as the RB5 in PPR leagues. In Houston, Bill O’Brien knows how to put together a rushing attack, and better yet, understands the importance of versatile, three-down backs. Miller is in a great position to rack up rushing and receiving stats, and looks like a top-5 fantasy option as well.

Jamaal Charles

Kansas City Chiefs | Age: 30


Jamaal CharlesAt 30, and coming off of a second torn ACL, Jamaal Charles’s ADP indicates that there is some doubts about his ability to be an impact RB1. Throw in the fact that the Chiefs running game looked just fine without JC in the lineup, and the fantasy community looks ready to write off the eight-year veteran. But when healthy, Charles is a clearly superior player to KC’s other backs, and still has that dangerous burst and superb receiving ability that make him such a versatile weapon. Andy Reid knows how to utilize his backs, and we think that Charles can still put up the goods and produce another top-10 season.

Devonta Freeman

Atlanta Falcons | Age: 24


Thrust into the starting role in Week 2, Freeman was outstanding as an all-purpose runner and receiver in first half of 2015, But as the season wore on, Freeman faded down to 3.1 yards per tote in Atlanta’s second half. While we like Freeman as a good fit, it’s entirely possible that Tevin Coleman- who this staff drafted- will earn a bigger role, or the Falcons could enter into a full-blown committee. That makes Freeman an appealing, but risky pick.

Eddie Lacy

Green Bay Packers | Age: 25


Eddie LacyAfter two-straight 1100-yard rushing seasons to open his career, Lacy’s offseason commitment to the Drake’s Coffee Cake fitness plan torpedoed his chances of recouping his early first-round fantasy value. After dropping down to some 40% of the workload, Lacy has worked hard to get into shape entering a crucial contract year. Lacy has shown the ability to be a solid three-down back, and the lousy results from last season are still fresh in many minds. Overall, Lacy looks like a solid RB1 with a slightly reduced price tag. We like him as a value pick in the second or third round.

Mark Ingram

New Orleans Saints | Age: 27


The biggest knock on Ingram has got to be health. Just once in five years has he played all 16 games, including missing four contests last year. When he did play, however, Ingram looked like a potential star player. Ingram caught a career-high 50 balls last season and his rushing pace in those 12 games was 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns. If the sixth-year pro can continue his improved on-field performance by staying on the field for 16 games, he’s a potential RB1 and a nice value pick in the latte part or round 3.

LeSean McCoy

Buffalo Bills | Age: 28


lesean-mccoyAfter two-straight 16-game seasons, McCoy missed a month last year and saw some of his snaps going to rookie teammate Karlos Williams. With Williams now suspended for the first month of the season, Shady’s touches should increase, and he might not lose the crucial goal line looks early on. As long as he can stay healthy, LeSean McCoy will be close to a three-down back, and that gives him fairly significant fantasy appeal.

Doug Martin

Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Age: 25


Martin was terrific last year, running for 1,402 yards and even catching 33 passes in a contract year. A player stepping up to earn a new deal isn’t an unusual occurrence, but it can be a concern once that deal is landed. Another issue is Charles Sims, who looks equally good and is a real threat to limit Martin’s upside. Finally, before last season, Martin missed 15 games from 2013-14, and suited up for only 76% of the games in his career. Martin is a good back, but hard to rely on as your No. 1 runner, so if you find yourself in that situation, be sure to also select Sims as as must-have hand-cuff.

Thomas Rawls

Seattle Seahawks | Age: 23


Thomas Rawls Fantasy FootballTaking the plunge on drafting Rawls is a high risk/reward endeavor. We all saw how well Rawls played in relief of the now-retired Marshawn Lynch, opening the possibility of Rawls being a top-5 running back for years to come. But Rawls broke his ankle late last year and there is absolutely no word on how the recovery is going. The Seahawks then went out and drafted a slew of runners as possible insurance policies, further clouding the backfield picture. There’s almost no chance we’ll see Rawls play in the preseason, so drafting him takes a severe leap of faith. We love the upside a healthy Rawls offers, and his plummeting ADP make him a risk worth considering after Round 4.

C.J. Anderson

Denver Broncos | Age: 25


Anyone who invested a first or second-round pick on Anderson last season was surely disappointed with the lackluster results, but there is no truth the rumor that his given name is “Carlester Jabroni.” Anderson salvaged his value with a resurgent second half, and Denver’s quarterback woes assure they’ll rely on the running game more this season. The club re-signed Ronnie Hillman, and also drafted Devontae Booker to push for playing time. But Anderson will have the first shot to secure a larger role here, and that makes him a solid candidate for RB2 production.

Jeremy Hill

Cincinnati Bengals | Age: 24


Hill’s scoring prowess assures that he’ll have at least some week-to-week value. Inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, Hill led the NFL in rushing yards (53) and touchdowns (11.) The Bengals lost two-thirds of their receiving corps and their head coach, so the 2016 squad might rely a little more on the running game. He’ll likely continue to split carries with Gio Bernard, but Hill is a solid bet to once again finish near the top of the touchdown leaders, and that gives him fantasy significance.

Matt Forte

New York Jets | Age: 31


After Chicago let Forte walk, the Jets happily signed the 30-year-old to take over the starting role vacated by Chris Ivory signing with Jacksonville. Forte is still a solid ball-carrier and receiver, but possesses many of the same traits as Bilal Powell, who has been talked-up as a potentially significant part of New York’s 2016 offensive plans. Newly-signed Khiry Robinson also makes sense as a potential goal-line vulture, further clouding the backfield picture. Both Forte and Powell are good enough pass-catchers that they may be used in the slot in four-wide sets, but the Jets’ subpar offensive line and unclear quarterback situation make it hard to invest in Forte as anything more than an RB2 in PPR leagues.

Carlos Hyde

San Francisco 49ers | Age: 25


Last season the San Francisco 49ers didn’t have a lot of talent surrounding Hyde, but he still showed his potential. Hyde was also misused, logging 15 carries or less in four of his seven games played. With Chip Kelly in town, that should change. Kelly knows how to put together a running game. Each of Kelly’s Eagles squads finished above league average in rushing and touchdowns. Hyde is a popular breakout pick among fantasy analysts, but has also missed 11 of 32 pro starts, making him a high risk/reward RB2.

Ryan Mathews

Philadelphia Eagles | Age: 29


Ryan MathewsMathews is a solid inside runner who boasts a nice yards per carry average in his career. As the biggest back on the Philadelphia roster, he’ll have first crack at the first and second down role. Mathews also doubles as a solid pass-catcher, so he won’t necessarily yield all third down work to Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood. The main issue with Mathews has been health. He’s missed 2+ games in five of his six seasons. Philadelphia looks firmly committed to a backfield-by-committee, so view Mathews as a solid part of a fantasy rotation, or as an RB3/flex play.

Jay Ajayi

Miami Dolphins | Age: 23


Ajayi is a popular sleeper pick as the potential banger in Adam Gase’s new offense. But the Dolphins attempted to sign CJ Anderson in free agency and also drafted their own back in Kenyan Drake. At Boise State, Ayayi was a highly-productive three-down back, and he showed some flashes as a rookie last season. There’s plenty of upside here, but there’s also plenty of risk with investing in Ajayi as a starter, so he’s best viewed as a high-upside flex player.

Matt Jones

Washington Redskins | Age: 24


Outside of one tremendous game against a stellar Rams defense, Jones was quite awful as a rookie. Following that game, he averaged an incredulous 2.8 yards per carry and had five fumbles. But the Redskins must see these problems as correctable, as they let Alfred Morris walk away for a pretty cheap contract in Dallas. Jones has some big-play, and tackle-breaking ability. There’s also plenty of potential scoring opportunities in a potent Washington offense. Jones has the size to be solid in short-yardage opportunities, so if he can hold onto the ball and the starting job, there’s plenty of upside here.

Dion Lewis

New England Patriots | Age: 26


Depending on your league’s format, Lewis is a prime candidate to be overdrafted. In PPR leagues, he’ll be an excellent weekly contributor as a change-of-pace runner. Where Lewis really pays dividends is as a receiver out of the backfield. He likely would have finished last year as a top-10 PPR back if he had stayed healthy. There’s less appeal to draft Lewis is standard leagues, where his receptions are minimized and his lack of touchdowns can hurt your lineup.

Giovani Bernard

Cincinnati Bengals | Age: 25


Bernard easily outplayed teammate Jeremy Hill is all facets last season, but it’s the larger Hill who racked up all those short-yardage touchdowns. With a new offensive coordinator calling plays, there’s no guarantee that Hill will command all those carries this year. If Bernard continues to excel as a runner and receiver, he could wrestle a larger role in the Bengals’ offense. Even if the Bengals continue to employ a committee, Bernard has some weekly value and should continue to get around 15 touches a game. Bernard is a nice sleeper pick that can be selected after Round 6 in many fantasy drafts.

Duke Johnson

Cleveland Browns | Age: 23


With Hue Jackson now in Cleveland, we fully expect the Browns to utilize a two-back rotation, with Johnson playing a role similar to that of Gio Bernard. Johnson is a far superior pass-catcher to Isaiah Crowell, and offers better route-running and enough speed and elusiveness to be a potential impact runner as well. Cleveland is rebuilding and likely to be trailing often this year, and that favors Johnson to see plenty of snaps as a receiver out of the backfield. Johnson is a high-upside sleeper to target in the middle rounds, and a potential RB2 in PPR formats.

Frank Gore

Indianapolis Colts | Age: 33


Frank GoreWhile the Colts did little to bring in competition to take carries from Gore, 33 is ancient for a running back and it would be unprecedented for a back with Gore’s extensive mileage to make a huge fantasy impact. Most likely, Gore will have a role and numbers similar to last season, but he’ll likely cede more passing-down work in an attempt to keep him healthy down the stretch. That makes Gore better utilized as bye week depth or in a flex spot.

Latavius Murray

Oakland Raiders | Age: 26


There’s some potential for Murray to be a solid RB2 running behind Oakland’s offensive line, but the Raiders brass doesn’t seem enamored with their third-year back. The team also invested fifth-round pick on DeAndre Washington, who has impressed the coaching staff and earned first-team reps in OTA’s. If Murray can hold onto the same share of carries he enjoyed last season, he’ll be a steal at his current ADP.

Melvin Gordon

San Diego Chargers | Age: 23


After being selected with the 15th pick, the Charges were expecting more out of their rookie rusher than six fumbles and zero touchdowns. The disappointing season wasn’t all Gordon’s fault, as Football Outsiders ranked San Diego’s run-blocking unit as 31st in the league. Gordon showed some ability to cause missed tackles, break long runs and catch passes, so there’s some optimism that he can recoup some value and approach RB3 status in his sophomore season.

Jonathan Stewart

Carolina Panthers | Age: 29


Stewart finally got the chance to lead the Carolina backfield and responded with his best performance in seven years. There’s also not a lot of proven competition in Carolina that poses much of a threat to take the lead-dog role away from Stewart in 2016, so he’s got solid value as the proverbial RB1 in a potent Panthers offense. But Stewart hasn’t had a healthy 16-game season since 2011 and also offers almost nothing as a pass-catcher. That makes him a risky proposition as and RB2, and why he’s widely available in drafts much later than most starting running backs.

DeMarco Murray

Tennessee Titans | Age: 28


Murray was simply not a good fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, rushing for a career-worst 3.6 yards per carry and showing none of the burst that made him so effective in Dallas. Traded to Tennessee, Murray should look better in the Titans’ scheme, but now must contend with a crowded backfield, running QB, and lesser receiving corps. All those factors add up to make Murray a risky RB2.

Jeremy Langford

Chicago Bears | Age: 25


Jeremy LangfordLangford is a polarizing back. A few analysts think he’s nothing more than a plodder who doesn’t offer much athletic upside. However Football Outsiders ranked Langford as the No. 5 running back last season in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), meaning he was actually better than could be expected. John Fox has never been shy about employing committees in the past, and that’s the most likely scenario here. Langford will have first shot to earn first and second down carries, but his poor showing as a pass-catcher will allow Jordan Howard to earn a role as a change-of-pace and third-down back.

Ameer Abdullah

Detroit Lions | Age: 23


Detroit will likely continue to utilize a three-back rotation, with Abdullah acting as the de facto starter. Abdullah showed massive big-play ability in the preseason, but struggled with fumbles and never really earned a large enough role for a Detroit club that doesn’t emphasize the running game. Abdullah will yield a lot of passing-down work to Theo Riddick, and won’t get many short-yardage carries with Zach Zenner or Stevan Ridley playing the inside-banger role. Abdullah offers exciting upside, but is unlikely to secure a large-enough workload to warrant an RB2 spot. Draft him as flex depth.

Paul Perkins

New York Giants | Age: 21 | Rookie*

We’ve planted our flag with Perkins being one of our favorite breakout candidates. Perkins is a versatile runner, with strong vision, athleticism, speed and agility. Despite being classified as undersized, Perkins was a tough inside runner at UCLA and also doubles as a smooth receiver. Listed at 5’10” 208, Perkins reminds Jody Smith of Clinton Portis. While Tom Coughlin was notoriously untrusting of rookie running backs, there’s no indication that his successor Ben McAdoo shares that philosophy. Although 31-year-old veteran Rashad Jennings will have first shot at the starting role for New York, Jennings is a declining player who has never carried a full workload before, and has missed 29 games throughout his seven-year career. The Giants offense is going to be productive and to assure better balance, McAdoo knows he’ll need to establish a more-effective ground game. Perkins offers a skill-set and big-play upside lacking from other backs on the roster. We think it’s just a matter of time before the rookie emerges and becomes a serious fantasy threat. Target him after Round 10 or 11.

Danny Woodhead

San Diego Chargers | Age: 31


If you’re in a PPR league, go ahead and move Woodhead up to fringe RB1/2 territory. The 31-year-old veteran is a terrific pass-catcher, and his diminutive size makes him an effective short-yardage rusher as well. We expect Melvin Gordon to be more involved in his second season, but Woodhead’s short-yardage and passing game role look secure for one more season. He’s a candidate to 500-700 total yards and 5-6 touchdowns.

Charles Sims

Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Age: 26


Even while playing in a change-of-pace role behind Matin last season, Sims’ 51 grabs was 7th among running backs, and he finished as the RB16 in PPR leagues. He also looked just as effective while running the ball, with both Martin and Sims checking in at 4.9 yards per carry. To us, Sims looks just as good as Doug Martin, and if Martin were to go down, Sims has the skill-set to be an instant RB1.

Isaiah Crowell

Cleveland Browns | Age: 23


New head coach Hue Jackson is a smart offensive mind. Rather than try to fit players into a set system, Jackson likes to alter his game-plan to fit his personnel. In Cincinnati, Jackson employed a two-back rushing attack, and the Browns have Crowell and Duke Johnson on the roster- who compare favorably to Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. Cleveland’s passing offense is full of question marks too, so they might rely on the ground game much more than previous seasons. Crowell looks like a good bet to command early down work, and could even rack up 6-8 short-yardage touchdowns as well. At his current ADP, Crowell looks like a nice sleeper.

LeGarrette Blount

New England Patriots | Age: 30


Bount won’t offer anything as a receiver, but what he can do for the Patriots is run between the tackles and punch in short-yardage touchdowns. The Pats have been one of the busiest teams over the past five years in terms of rushing touchdowns, as Bill Belichick likes to rely on the ground game inside the five. Overall, Blount has scored a rushing touchdowns about once every other game during his Patriots tenure. Another season of 700 rushing yards and 6-8 touchdowns seems like a reasonable expectation.

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