Finally, I’m able to return to the Stream of Gut and continue cranking out my 2016 Fantasy Football PPR RB rankings. My apologies for the extended absence. For the past week, I’ve been camping with 70 sixth graders out in Maine for our end of year field trip… Aka taking a quick visit into an inner circle of Dante’s hell.
Nonetheless, I’ve returned in one piece, and, with summer looming, should be able to crank out the rest of this Stream of Gut far quicker. Given my addiction, I can’t withstand much longer without a mock draft or analyzing ADP, but still remain committed to keeping these truly my own gut feelings and avoiding outside influence; thus, I really have no choice but to get them done and out ASAP. The cold sweats and night terrors have grown unbearable.
Let’s dive right back in with the running backs, rounding out the last of the RB1s. But before we do…
Tier 1 – Talented, three-down workhorses in explosive offense’s:
- Le’veon Bell
- David Johnson
- Ezekiel Elliott
Tier 2 – Lock RB1s
4. Todd Gurley
5. Devonta Freeman
6. Lamar Miller
7. Adrian Peterson
Tier 3 – Middling RB1s
Tier Breakdown: While I’m comfortable using a second round pick to pair one of these horses with a true WR1, there’s a bit more bust potential to this crew of backs than any of the locked in RB1s we explored last week. Whether injury, role, or fat level (yes, seriously), this tier offers a similar ceiling to those above, but come with higher bust potential.
As such, we’ll go a bit more depth into the upside and risk of the following backs, as missing a second round pick creates a tough hole to dig from. If I miss/pass on this tier, I either took a stud RB in the first, or now have a diesel pair of WRs.
8. Eddie Lacy – Has a fantasy player’s value ever been so closely tied to his waistline? Eddie Lacy’s value roller coaster has been fueled solely by weight reports and Instagram pictures, all focused on the ever-important fantasy question: just how fat is Eddie?
As absurd as that may seem, it’s one of 2016’s most important fantasy storylines. The ceiling and floor gap between Fat Eddie and Shredded Eddie is so vast that owners are literally correct, and not creepy, for maniacally tracking his P90X progress or begging for a scale picture to leak out (or is that just me?). Let’s take a look at the massive contrasts in “Fit Eddie’s” stock profile vs. “Fat Eddie’s.”
Fit Eddie: Frequent top-three pick in 2015 drafts as a three-down, high usage horse in an explosive offense. Displayed serious floor when Lacy was able to maintain, and even boost, his scoring output when Aaron Rodgers was injured in 2014. A legitimate train who can bull through defenders, Fit Eddie also contains surprising agility and open-field vision for his massive size, making him a sneaky big-play threat. Combine this with his soft, Lacy’s dangerous in the screen and swing game. A consistent threat for 1,500 total yards and 12+ TDs at a wildly inconsistent position, Lacy is a true RB1.
Fat Eddie: Heavy. Really, really heavy. With a stuck-in-the-mud running style, Eddie still requires gang-tackling, yet he rarely emerges deep from the line of scrimmage with sapped explosion. Hands are still soft, yet reduced burst, receptions yield sparse yardage. No big play upside. 2015 Fantasy Season Ruiner, Lacy belongs on rosters as a desperate TD-flex play in bye weeks only.
So what Eddie are we getting in 2016? This is proving a tough roller coaster to predict, despite its importance. Just look at the ups and downs from May 12th to now:
- May 12th, 2016: Eddie Lacy is considered one of the “winners” of this offseason, reporting 15-18 pounds lighter and giving coach Ted Thompson confidence to avoid the running back position in free agency or the draft.
- May 24th, only twelve days later: Eddie Lacy still weighs in the 240s. While indeed a 15+ pound decrease from the enormous 260 lbs lug we were tortured with, he’s still 10+ pounds heavier than his combine weight of 231 lb. Analysts call him more of a dice roll second round pick.
- June 14th something about the Packers caring more about body composition than weight? Are we seriously this desperate? The answer is yes.
- June 16th, oh happy day! Eddie is going in for another round of P90X. Imagine if he drops yet another 10 lbs before training camp? Guaranteed he becomes a prime bounce back candidate for all analysts, and he delivers just that.
Clearly, this “Weight Watch Saga” has had more peaks and valleys than a season of Game of Thrones. Are we attending the Red Wedding with a Fat Eddie, or rejoicing triumphantly at a Purple Wedding with a Shredded Eddie?
While this makes a firm ranking difficult, the good news is the ultimate answer should be crystal clear: is Eddie Lacy fat and slow? Don’t touch. Is Eddie Lacy shredded and bulldozing? Invest everywhere. This ranking heavily assumes we’ll get a Shedded Eddie and thus a return to true RB1 status. If chubby Ed shows up and is lugging around the field, he will plummet down this list.
9. Doug Martin – Before the offseason, as I was finding my groove as a writer, I wrote a practice article called “Value Holes.” No, this wasn’t the title of some B-list porno, but a look at the most fantasy-relevant free agency voids.
My number two Running Back Value Hole? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s what I wrote back in February before the start of player movement:
February 12th, 2016 – Tampa Bay Running Back Value Hole:
Surrounding Talent – 9
If Winston takes the next step that most, including myself, expect of him, then this offense will be in the red zone quite a bit. June Update – all offseason reports have been glowing on Winston, from his commitment to his body and weight, to his offseason workouts with receivers to build rapport (I have him as my QB13, so clearly I’m on board). With a next level Winston, the twin towers of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson on the outside, and the monstrous Austin Seferian Jenkins working the seam (if he gets his head on straight), this offense has the potential to keep defenses on their heels all season. Someone should have plenty of scoring drives to cap off, and as we’ll explore later, head coach Dirk Koetter historically loves pounding in the red zone.
Additionally, a consistently improving offensive line should take another massive leap forward with the return of arguably their top talent in right tackle Demar Dotson. As the above link highlights, despite losing Dotson and starting two rookies, the entire offense’s rushing efficiency and production took a massive leap forward in 2015. This helped a previously useless Doug Martin earn runner-up for the rushing crown behind AP, and a solid line is trending upwards.
Scheme / Coaching System – 9
Dirk Koetter is the driver behind most of my excitement for whoever becomes Tampa Bay’s lead runner. Update – This is obviously Doug Martin now. Outside of when he had a 30 year old Michael Turner or Steven Jackson, Koetter has always built successful running games. In addition to reviving Doug Martin for 1673 total yards a 7 TDs, Koetter was the O.C. behind MJD’s wildly successful early career in Jacksonville. In his first stint in the NFL, Koetter coordinated a Jaguar rushing attack that ranked 2nd in attempts and yardage, and 4th in TDs behind a 1202 rushing yard effort from Fred Taylor and a 1175 total yard season from MJD. From here, the bowling ball was unleashed: a 1389 total yard, 14 td season in 2008 while still in a timeshare, 1765 total yards and 16 TDs as the every-down horse in 2009, a 1641 total yard season in 2010, and a whopping 1980 total yard, 11 TD season in 2011.
The only downside? Koetter does typically feature an early down back before rotating in a 3rd down option, as Charles Sims and MJD’s early committees with Fred Taylor have shown us. Even if splitting some work, Koetter still schemes up plenty of volume and value for his lead back. And if he happens commit to one guy as an every-down horse? Look out. The revival of MJD would be upon us.
Value Hole Summary – Despite a potential committee with Sims, this Value Hole features an explosive offense with tons of TD potential, and a play caller who has consistently saddled up and fed carries to his early down rusher when he’s had the talent. While history suggests we’ll see a split of rushing work and receiving work between two backs, Koetter still feeds both roles plenty well. And if he chooses to go with an every-down horse, we’ve got a first round type of RB play.
Fast forward, and Doug Martin fills the hole: This outlook is even clearer with Doug Martin’s return. With the line improving, the offense more explosive, investors should expect a repeat or even uptick of his 1,673 total yards and 7 TD season, right?
My only skepticism lies in Martin’s inconsistency. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, and looked to be a lead-pipe lock for top-five RB status year in and year out. Suddenly, and for the next few seasons, the Muscle Hamster didn’t appear quite as chiseled. His speed appeared sapped while he lugged through two injury-marred, useless seasons.
Just as sudden as his decline, the Muscle Hamster was back to the best shape of his career for 2015. He’s bursting through holes and stiff-arming with tremendous power, while out running the defense once he hits the open field. He’s back to rookie year Doug! What gives?
Contract year. Is it wrong for me to question Doug’s motivation that it took money to light the fire under his ass? Especially now that he’s received a fat contract, this year will be particularly telling for what type of player we’ve got here.
If reports emerge throughout training camp that he’s taken the offseason far more seriously and understands his role and opportunity here, than I will feel a lot more solid about Doug Martin as my RB1. As of now, I don’t think he’s the stone cold lock for a repeat or improvement he could easily be pegged for.
10. Jamaal Charles – I still truly believe Jamaal Charles is a top-three RB talent. The guy was on an absurd 1,700+ yard and 16 TD pace before going down with the ACL tear. Yet, I think that pace isn’t reflective of his 2015 ceiling, and here’s why:
A) Health – For as tough as Jamaal Charles is, his slight frame has taken a beating and he continues to show signs of breaking down. The ultimate dual-threat is coming off his second career ACL tear, has suffered numerous ankle injuries, and isn’t getting any younger at 29 (he’ll shake hands with the dreaded RB Grim Reaper, Age 30, this season).
B) Committee? Assuming Charles does stay healthy, a fairly big leap to take, is his situation that great? Again, this isn’t knocking his talent. I think he can do it all, and still has a gear few possess. I think he simply won’t be asked to carry the volume that has made him elite with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware showing well. Despite his skills at the stripe, I imagine these two will lessen his burden in the red area, at minimum, in an effort to keep JaCha fresh.
Given his age and these questions about his workload, JaCha has to be drafted with a grain of skepticism. True, if he’s able to make it through the entire season healthy and in a workhorse role, he’ll shove this ranking down my throat. I just have a hard time envisioning those dominoes all falling for him.
11. Mark Ingram – The most exciting part of Ingram’s 2015 was his emergence in the receiving game. The Saints offense operated at its most effective when no substitutions were needed, and Ingram proved a quality option in both protection and as an outlet with 50 receptions in 12 games, or over four per contest (66 catch pace, 11 TDs worth in PPR leagues).
In addition to Ingram’s own development, Sean Payton’s new commitment to a three-down back and this surrounding cast make the Saints backfield a fantasy goldmine. This is a historically explosive, point-churning offense that added a new weapon in Michael Thomas, who’s received rave reviews all off-season. Additionally, the team clearly committed to beefing up their offensive line last offseason, drafting the massive Andrus Peat at #13 while trading Jimmy Graham for beastly center Max Unger. While Peat had a busty rookie season, all reports are he’s coming in far more chiseled and ready to plow open holes at either left guard or right tackle, the only question marks on this line.
In sum, Ingram is a closet three down horse running behind a strong line in an ascending offense. With health, he’s a lock for RB1 production. But that remains the roadblock with Ingram, and it’s a major one. Ingram has only made it through one ineffective, lightly used season due to a variety of foot and bone injuries. You’ll get some solid production when he’s there, but in two seasons Ingram has sat out during fantasy playoffs.
Thankfully, this the risk is reduced because of how solid this system and surrounding talent are for fantasy production. An out-of-the-league, previous plodder in Tim Hightower produced shocking numbers, including over 30 points in fantasy championships (bending me over) thanks to this money situation. Handcuffing Ingram is a must, but locking up this backfield is near assurance for weekly RB points.
Stay tuned for the low-end RB1s, high-end RB2s, including Lesean McCoy, Dion Lewis, CJ Anderson, and Thomas Rawls.