This is the longest I’ve gone without doing a fantasy football mock draft, and I’m starting to lose sleep wondering how far Jarvis Landry is falling. Yet, I remain committed to avoiding ADP and other rankings to keep these 2016 PPR Fantasy Football Rankings my own, independent thoughts. With draft season a mere month away, it’s time to get this cranked out.
As such, I’m shortening the research put into these running back write ups and cruising through with strict gut reactions (link to How to create…). Hell, even if I wanted to include news blurbs, play calling tendency, stats and all the other information my previous posts were saturated with, I have no internet access on a trip in gorgeous, but middle of nowhere, Maine. The below comes strictly from memory, and my ample gut.
Here’s a refresher in case you’ve missed any content so far:
Quarterbacks – Elite #1 options , Remaining QB1s, QB2s and fliers
Running Back Rankings:
1. Le’veon Bell
2. David Johnson (still considering a bump down, but I really think this workload questioning is just coach speak)
3. Ezekiel Elliott
4. Todd Gurley (Reminder – he’s my #1 RB and #2 overall player in standard. I have him down here due to reception question marks, but I’m starting to think a talent like his will transcend any type of role concerns or scoring settings.)
5. Devonta Freeman
6. Lamar Miller
7. Adrian Peterson (Still getting slightly nauseous ranking AP below Lamar…)
8. Eddie Lacy
9. Doug Martin
10. Jamaal Charles
11. Mark Ingram
Tier 4 – Low end RB1s, high end RB2s
12. Dion Lewis
13. Matt Forte
14. Thomas Rawls
15. Latavius Murray
16. Lesean McCoy
17. CJ Anderson
Tier 5 – Intriguing RB2s
Tier Breakdown: Unless your WRs are completely filthy, you hopefully won’t be relying on any of the following backs as your lead horse. Yet, depending on your team needs, the following backs represent prime targets for your RB2 spot. Maybe you need an injection of upside to boost a safe squad’s overall ceiling (think Jay Ajayi or Matt Jones). Perhaps you’ve already rolled the dice a bit, and need some guaranteed production (welcome Woodhead and Stewart). Regardless, the following options are all strong RB2 targets if you pursue WRs more heavily in the first few rounds.
18. Ryan Matthews (Philadelphia Eagles) – The low-end RB1 who won’t stay healthy. Make this a backfield investment.
With health, Ryan Matthews has the set-up for an RB1 season, which no one seems to be acknowledging. New head coach Doug Pederson loves controlling the clock through the ground game, and, as an Andy Reid disciple, his backs are constantly used as receivers. I do feel Darren Sproles or rookie Wendell Smallwood will steal a significant portion of these receptions, but Matthews is primed for the majority of early down touches in this creative and successful rushing scheme with DeMarco Murray traded away to Tennessee.
Matthews’ surrounding talent is high in Philadelphia. His offensive line is strong, while Sam Bradford and the skill position players are fully capable of sustaining drives and creating scoring opportunities. Additionally, Matthews himself is a highly talented runner. I love his vision, and he has some serious elusiveness to go with under appreciated power. Off the top of my head, his 2015 YPC was over 5.0 and towards the top of the league, and Matthews recently ran for over 1,200 yards with the Chargers. When he’s been fed and held up, he’s produced, and 2016 could be his best serving yet.
Of course, health is an enormous question mark with Matthews, who’s appropriately covered in “injury prone” red tape. He’ll almost assuredly miss time in 2016, and I consider this more of a “backfield” investment; Sproles and Smallwood have to both be rostered, because as Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West showed us last year, all you need is the lead back in Pederson’s scheme for useful production. There’ll be countless leagues where my RB2 is the starting Eagles back, and until he breaks down, Matthews will get the first crack. I’m envisioning a season’s worth of low-end RB1 numbers for a mid round pick (Matthews) and two handcuff fliers (Sproles and Smallwood).
19. Jay Ajayi (Miami Dolphins) and 20. Matt Jones (Washington Redskins) – RB1 ceilings, non factor floors
I rank these two side-by-side because they profile so similarly. Both enter 2016 as projected workhorses. Both flashed serious talent, but also plenty of downside. Both play in ascending offenses with strong surrounding casts. Neither one has a major leash or serious grip on this starting role. In sum, both could finish 2016 as RB1s if they maximize their ripe setups, but also offer non-factor downside should they falter.
Early offseason reports suggested Ajayi struggled in OTAs as a receiver, yet he proved plenty capable in this role while at Boise. He ran with beast-mode levels of physicality in college, and his tackle-breaking prowess translated during his late season emergence. Gase’s offenses are always creative, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker are a dangerous duo at wideout, and Ajayi offers 12+ TD upside if Ryan Tannehill can get back on track.
Though I believe in Ajayi’s talent more, Jones flashed plenty of his own skill early on the year. Fumbling and breakdown risk are real threats to Jones maintaining workhorse status, but the Redskins offense could be a juggernaut. Kirk Cousins looked like the real deal, and rookie Josh Doctson is an imposing addition to an already stacked aerial cupboard of Jordan Reed, Desean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Boxes cannot be stacked, and scoring chances could be plentiful.
On paper, the RB1 ceiling is very real for both second year backs. The floor is also terrifying. If you’ve got a sturdy #1 option, these two are prime targets for the RB2 and flex spots.
21. Danny Woodhead (San Diego Chargers) and 22. Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers) – High floor, low ceiling RB2s
Just like above, these two are grouped together for their very similar profiles. Yet, Woodhead and Stewart are completely opposite to the raw, unestablished ceilings of Ajayi and Jones. We know exactly what we’re getting with these veterans, which makes them a solid pairing to balance out a riskier RB1 (I.e. Lacy, Rawls).
Woodhead finished as the #3 PPR Running Back in 2015, which makes a #21 ranking appear insulting. Yet, this overall ranking had much more to do with an awful 2015 for RBs in general than it did with anything exceptional from Danny himself. A four TD outing also inflated his end of season numbers, and as an owner myself, you never felt you had a true RB1, never mind the #3 guy. Woodhead still owns the valuable third down and red zone work for a highly competent offense, which will keep him productive more often than not. Nonetheless, he’s still prone to quite a few disappearing acts when the Chargers get off to major leads, while bringing some injury risk given his small frame. With health, Woodhead will likely finish above at least a few players on this list, but his capped ceiling generally leaves me chasing other options.
Stewart, meanwhile, offers a little more guaranteed weekly work, but far less passing game and red zone upside; Cam Newton simply owns the stripe, while Stewart has yet to carve out any meaningful or consistent passing game work. He maintains his RB2 status off of a guaranteed 15-20 weekly carries in an explosive offense, but truly week-altering performances are few and far between. He won’t win you a game, nor cost you a game, and if that’s what your team needs after three rounds, Stewart is a highly worthwhile investment.
23. Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49ers)- Minimal surrounding talent and game flow concerns greatly hurt his RB1 upside
Yes, I’ve drawn sturdy wood at the reports stating Hyde is slimming down and working on his conditioning to withstand Chip Kelly’s breakneck offensive pace. Indeed, Hyde’s flashed RB1 upside at times in his early NFL career, and projects as a strong fit in Kelly’s relentless zone-read scheme with dangerous power and vision. This could be an ideal skillset and scheme mesh to maximize his high ceiling.
Unfortuntately, there’s far more downside. Hyde hasn’t yet made it through a full NFL season, and the buffet of carries that create RB1 upside also increase his breakdown potential. In addition to this double-edged sword, his surrounding talent is pitiful. The line is weak, the receivers are uninspiring, and Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick are vomit-producing QBs. Moreover, the defense is a complete joke; given Hyde is not much of a receiver, game flow will often not be on his side with the 49ers needing to throw and come from behind.
If Hyde maintains health all year…if the defense isn’t completely horrible and/or Hyde expands his receiving game role..if Kaepernick maximizes his athleticism and creates a nightmarish zone-read attack and scoring chances… Lol let’s stop there. Yes, Hyde would offer top ten, maybe even top five, upside if all those situations bend favorably. Unfortunately, it’s far likelier none of those three pan out than all of them.