Tier 6 – Remaining RBs
We continue to roll out our 2016 Fantasy Football PPR Rankings, today wrapping up the remaining players worth consideration for your No. 2 running back spot (yesterday we covered the intriguing / upside RBs, and last week we examined the elite second options). Unlike the backs ahead of them, who offer three-down back ceilings, the majority of these runners are locked into a committee and thus have a minimal shot at true workhorse status, barring injury. Despite sharing the load, these backs still offer enough weekly usage to make them viable starting options as things currently stand; later, I’ll be looking at murkier backfields were value will emerge, but for exactly who needs clarification.
Note – I have not once called an RB a “flex option.” While this is far different in standard leagues, a strong third or fourth WR (depending on roster settings) generally brings far more weekly upside to your PPR flex spot; hitting a home run on a late round TE or RB obviously can change this, as do injury and bye weeks, but I always enter PPR drafts with the mindset of starting four WRs.
24. Jeremy Langford – Potential “hot-hand” approach reduces his original high-end RB2 appeal
Only a few months ago, Langford would’ve slotted at the top of my “Intriguing RB2 (with workhorse RB1 upside)” tier. As the year wound to a close, Langford was reportedly being “clearly groomed” as the 2016 “feature back” and deemed as Matt Forte’s “heir apparent.” When Forte missed tie and Langford was thrust into the featured role, he flashed an RB1 ceiling: a TD in all three contests, over 140 total yards in two of three games, including a 182 total yard, two total TD, 7 catch effort (37.2 PPR Fantasy Points). That’ll give any owner a sturdy pants tent.
If anything can turn a rock hard diamond into a floppy flaccid noodle, however, it’s a John Fox hot-hand committee. The latest blurbs have been dominated with “shared backfield” venom, the most recent coming from Chicago Tribune’s Rich Campbell, who deemed this backfield the always comforting “hell for fantasy owners.” Yippee.
Oftentimes, this could just be written off as motivational coach speak. And when you look at the talent behind Langford (Ka’deem Carey? Really? A fifth round rookie Jordan Howard? Stop), gaining a hot hand doesn’t appear too challenging. Still, dating back to his Carolina days, Fox has historically favored unpredictable, value-draining workload distributions even when provided viable workhorse options. These reports can’t be ignored when projecting Langford’s 2016 output.
Nonetheless, the potential for a featured back role is there. Langford produced 16-consecutive 100 yard games against the Big Ten to wind down his collegiate career, and has that ability to be ridden. Hopefully, the Bears will realize sooner than later the value Langford brings to their backfield, because if not, this will be a frustrating headache for investors. This #24 ranking reflects the potential of both outcomes, and Langford could easily ascend these rankings quickly with a strong camp showing.
25. Giovani Bernard – Potential early season target hog creates his highest ceiling yet
In hindsight, Gio could be justified alongside Danny Woodhead and Jonathan Stewart as a high-floor PPR RB2; while he doesn’t own red zone work like San Diego’s diminutive dynamo, Bernard has sneaky potential to lead RBs in catches this season. With Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones on new squads, plus Tyler Eifert shelved for the foreseeable future, Bernard slides in as the clear early season No. 2 on the target totem pole, behind only the elite AJ Green. This could potentially keep Gio on the field alongside backfield mate Jeremy Hill, perhaps lined up in the slot, giving the skilled pass catcher sneaky every-down upside. If camp reports emerge of this type of formation and usage, Gio will likely vault up into the above tier.
Still, this type of role and usage remains speculative. As of now, Bernard remains locked into a committee where he’ll cede the vast majority of goal line carries and about 50% of the rushing workload. Unless Hill gets hurt or Gio emerges as a red zone receiving threa (admittedly a possibility with the lack of surrounding weapons) the North Carolina back would be a long shot for more than six total touchdowns, after notching only two total in all of 2015. Despite high reception and total yardage upside, his low TD potential caps his ultimate ceiling.
I also feel the loss of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will have a negative impact on the overall offensive production. With a strong offensive line and quality defense, the team could transition to a more ground-n-pound system, featuring the bruising Hill to control the clock and wear teams out. In short, the Bengals offensive scheme and Gio’s usage in it are important storylines to track this offseason. As of now, he projects as a target vacuum with limited TD upside, a recipe for safe, but uninspiring PPR RB2 numbers.
26. Chris Ivory – Marshawn Lynch lite offers double digit TD potential
The more I write about Chris Ivory, the less and less I can justify ranking him below Carlos Hyde. We’ve got the reigning AFC rushing leader now entering an even more explosive offense, thus creating very real 10+ TD upside. Ivory’s among the NFL’s best at breaking tackles and churning out extra yardage, running like a runaway freight train. Head coach Gus Bradley previously coached in Seattle, where he undoubtedly saw the valuable combination of an attacking defense and a sledge hammer back (Marshawn Lynch) to wear out and finish teams off. He then made sure the team signed Lynch’s closest active comparison in Ivory, and a similar type of role and usage is a definite possibility. No, this defense is not the Seattle Seahawks, but the team has aggressively pursued needs early in the last two NFL drafts (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, last year’s first rounder Dante Fowler) and free agency (Tashaun Gipson, Malik Jackson), and all signs point to a leap forward. Should this improvement happen, Ivory will be consistently asked to batter and punish the opposition.
In terms of surrounding talent, the line leaves quite a bit to be desired and struggled more heavily in the run game than in protection. Still, boxes should be light given the explosiveness of the surrounding skill talent. With ascending quarterback Blake Bortles, a potential top-three wide receiver duo in the Allen Brothers, plus Julius Thomas stretching the seams, Ivory should have plenty of scoring drives to cap off; backfield mate TJ Yeldon proved quite pitiful in the red zone last season, which’ll leave the six point chances for Ivory to bulldoze into.
Yeldon will steal the vast majority of receiving work, however, which certainly hurts in PPR formats. The most recent projections suggest a 55/45 rushing split favoring Ivory, with the potential for a second half “hot-hand” leading the way. Yet, Ivory was used sparingly in the receiving game with the Jets last season, and still produced a top-15 season in both PPR and standard formats; with 55% of the rushing workload and the vast majority of red zone action, Ivory has a shot at finishing similarly in 2016. To maintain that workload, he’ll need the defense to improve on the field and not just on paper, as well as maintain his own health, which has historically proven difficult given his physical running style. Given the negativity of early reactions to his Jaguars signing, I still think he’ll come at a nice value and score enough TDs to sustain quality RB2 numbers for however long he holds up.
27. Jeremy Hill – High TD Upside keeps him useful, but tough to predict
Hill’s 2015 was abysmal given his lofty, and justifiable, RB1 expectations. Once Gio went down and Hill was featured in 2014, no back was more valuable in fantasy. Hill displayed impressive power and tackle breaking, but more importantly decisiveness and vision in hitting the holes; once he found space, Hill was excellent at using the entire field to outrun the defense with unexpected long speed. Moreover, he showed soft hands and true three-down ability.
Come 2015, Hill never looked the same. He was sluggish to the hole. He rarely broke initial contact. In the rare moments he plodded his way through a crease, Hill never looked capable of breaking away. Moreover, he fumbled his way into the doghouse, and his poor play never really justified letting him out. Really, his only positive carryover was a strong nose for the end zone, as Hill was able to maintain some value to the tune of 12 total TDs (his 11 rushing TDs tied for the league lead).
Indeed, 2016 represents a fresh start. As explored with Gio, this offense is in dire need of playmakers. Building a power running offense around a mauling line and a rejuvenated Hill could be a real possibility…if Hill is actually rejuvenated. Before I can truly feel comfortable drafting Hill, I need to hear about some weight loss, see some returned explosion, and read about an offense committed to running the ball. Without this, Hill offers little more than a TD-dependent, weekly dice roll. With this, Hill could shoot up into my top-20.
28. Duke Johnson and 29. Isiah Crowell – in Hue Jackson I trust
Yes, Cleveland has become quite the fantasy garbage heap. Like steaming, rotten eggs and fish levels of stink.
Nonetheless, 2016 brings some room for optimism, especially in the ground game, thanks to new head coach Hue Jackson. Oakland had been an equally blazing dumpster fire before and during Jackson’s head coaching tenure, and his teams ranked 2nd and 7th in rushing yards and TDs, with Darren McFdden performing like a Round 1 RB1. Meanwhile, Cincinnatti has ranked 2nd and 4th in rushing TDs the last two seasons. Creative rushing volume, especially in the red area, will be available for these two back and the team isn’t shy about advertising it. According to the Clevland Plain Dealer:
“Running game coordinator Kirby Wilson, who told us in June that the Browns will play the kind of smash-mouth football their fans will love. ‘We’re going to be a run-oriented football team,’ he said. ‘Everything starts with the run game, our offensive line and our backs. As coach told us, we’re going to be a physically dominant, running football team.'”
Question 1, then, is how the work will be distributed.
Crowell figures to be the starter and favorite for early down and goal line work in the “Jeremy Hill” role, while Johnson projects as the “Gio Bernard” pass catching option. After giving his backs a vote of confidence by failing to address the RB position in the draft or free agency, Jackson has been effusive in his praise for both backs, labeling their talent as “extreme:”
Jackson on Crowell specifically: “I really think Isaiah Crowell is a really good running back. I think he’s going to have a sensational season, I really do.”
In studying Crowell’s film, Jackson sees a bellcow who can carry the load. The 5-11, 225-pounder didn’t always find the holes quickly enough last season, but Jackson is confident that will change this year.
“Obviously Isaiah is very explosive,” he said. “He’s got quick feet, he’s fast in the hole, he runs with good pad level.”
Wilson’s assessment: “”I think Isaiah is a complete player, in terms of the tools that he brings to the game,” Wilson said. “He’s explosive, he’s got really nice size, he’s got the natural ability to play the position, and he’s a bright young man, so football comes easy to him, in terms of the preparation part”
Jackson on Duke specifically: “Duke has suddenness and quickness and he can go catch the ball with anybody. He does so many different things that gives your offense a boost.’
Duke Johnson was a draft pick a year ago who kind of burst onto the scene and had a ton of catches and made some unbelievable plays,” Jackson said. “So I’m looking forward to working with him. I think he’s very talented.”
Wilson’s assessment: Johnson is “an ultimate weapon.”
“I thought Duke has a lot of those qualities that a lot of great running backs have, in terms of being a receiver,” Wilson said. “He’s got receiver background, he played it in high school, and he’s a playmaker whether he’s spread out or coming out of the back field. He’s very comfortable in space, he’s got natural ability to catch the football, and he knows how to run routes.”
Duke is the preferred option, especially in PPR leagues, given his high reception floor. He ranked second among all rookies, behind only Amari Cooper, with 61 receptions, and the above praise suggests this hasn’t gone unnoticed. When this floor is combined with every-down back upside given Crowell’s past inconsistency, Johnson becomes a highly attractive draft option. Yet, with a shot at 1,000 yards and 11-12 TDs, Crowell definitely still deserves drafters attention.
Yes, the offense as a whole is still a major question mark.Anchored by Joe Thomas and solid surrounding pieces, the line is a major strength despite losing Alex Mack. The surrounding skill talent is where the questions truly linger. Rookie Corey Coelman will boost a horrendous receiving corps, yet he’s also just a rookie. I love big Barnidge stretching the seams once again, yet boxes will likely be heavy if he’s he team’s most imposing aerial weapon again. RGIII’s revival is no guarantee, but he’d at least bring the zone-read threat which has historically opened up lanes for runners.
Regardless of the surrounding pieces, this offense will literally run through Crowell and Johnson. The high usage behind a solid line in a great scheme will help both maintain some startable value. If one emerges as a true lead horse (Duke represents the most upside here), we’d have a legitimate RB1 contender, and both are worth high consideration.
30. Frank Gore – Age will likely rob him of value, despite excellent set up
If Gore denies Father Time and remains both healthy and productive at age 33, this ranking will be one of my worst. Unlike those above him, Gore has a secure grip on the starting gig, and should receive the majority of work with no clear committee partner. Moreover, this should be an explosive, potentially top-three offense with Andrew Luck returning, and the lead back should be highly valuable. Using his doubters as motivation, Gore is working out doubly as hard and has set a 1,000 yard goal; the former Hurricane is fumed at finishing 2015 with 967, and has a better script to reach his target in 2016.
Ranking him down this low, I clearly don’t believe Gore will last or be effective enough to yield these stats, mainly because of age. In running back years, 33 equals 99, and Gore definitely looked like he was running on his last fumes late in 2015. No, he was not helped by a putrid offensive line, and this group should be pegged for a marginal step forward after adding center Ryan Kelly in Round One. Luck’s return will open things up a bit more. He’s still 33 and going to breakdown.
I absolutely have loved watching Gore run throughout this past decade, and it pains me to predict the cliff has come. He’s still worth a look at the right price in the off chance he proves me wrong given this ripe set-up; however, I’ll be much more invested in his backup (Josh Ferguson?) than Gore himself. If you’re reliant on Gore as a starter, handcuffing him will be absolutely essential.
Is it blasphemous 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray hasn’t been ranked? Count me as a big believer in Derrick Henry, which makes the Titans one of a few backfields where starting value will emerge, but exactly who, and where to rank them, is a bit murky (full disclosure, the post-camp, confirmed Titans lead back will likely be ranked towards the top of this tier). Check in tomorrow for this and other situations that will need to be monitored closely throughout training camps and the preseason. If you’ve missed previous Running back write ups and rankings, they are linked below.
Previously, on 2016 Fantasy Football PPR Rankings
Tier 1 – Elite, three-down workhorses in explosive offenses (Link here)
1. Le’veon Bell
2. David Johnson
3. Ezekiel Elliott
Tier 2 – Lock RB1s
4. Todd Gurley
5. Devonta Freeman
6. Lamar Miller
7. Adrian Peterson
Tier 3 – Middling RB1s (link here)
8. Eddie Lacy
9. Doug Martin
11. Mark Ingram
Tier 4 – Low RB1, High RB 2 (link here)
12. Dion Lewis
13. Matt Forte
14. Thomas Rawls
15. Latavius Murray
16. Lesean McCoy
17. CJ Anderson
Tier 5 – Intriguing RB2s (link here)
18. Ryan Mathews
19. Jay Ajayi
20. Matt Jones
21. Danny Woodhead
22. Jonathan Stewart
23. Carlos Hyde