Today, we wrap up our 2016 Fantasy Football PPR Running Back Rankings with the players who should be on your radar in the later rounds. We’ve already examined all the starter-worthy runners (with links below, in case you’ve missed any), as well as the backfields where value will emerge, we just need training camp and preseason to unfold and bring clarity first. At this stage, actually ranking these backs becomes more futile, as their values are totally dependent on your team needs; whereas one team might have shaky backfield depth and need a safer option, another squad might simply need the handcuff to their stud, and Vin the notorious Roto Blurb drafter needs a buzzy lottery ticket. As such, we’ll categorize the different later round options as Depth, Handcuffs, and Fliers, and provide our favorites in each category.
Nine More Depth Names
These backs either start or have roles in a committee, yet still don’t offer enough certainty at this point to be considered immediate starting options. Most would serve as fine depth in case of injury or bye-week blues, and everyone here should be rostered; ideally you have drafted at least three options before considering these backs.
1. Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah (Detroit Lions) – After a wildly disappointing 2015 in which he failed to reach 100 total yards in a single game, posted under 600 yards rushing on the season, and totaled only three TDs, the Abdullah Hype Express has again been gaining 2016 steam: Head coach Jim Caldwell dubbed Abdullah “the most likely to improve,” Tim Twentyman of detroitlions.com believes he’ll “be given every opportunity to tote most of the load,” and the Detroit Free Press predicts a 1,000+ rushing season for the sophomore.
Here’s the thing: All this could hold true, and Abdullah could still be tough to trust as a fantasy asset. Even if he gets the majority of the work, it’ll mainly come in the barren fantasy land known as “between-the-20s” while the fantasy gold is dispersed elsewhere. Big-back Zach Zenner or perhaps the corpse of Stevan Ridley will receive the goal line chances, while all those valuable PPR points will be funneled to Theo Riddick, who’s 80 catches ranked second among runners behind only Danny Woodhead.
Speaking of Riddick, his 179 PPR points ranked 18th among rushers, and outscored his more highly regarded backfield mate by a whopping 63 points. Though the post-Megatoron offense remains a mystery, the massive target void could make a repeat, or even slight improvement, of Riddick’s 2015 a real possibility.
If I’m shooting for some ceiling on my bench, Abdullah has a far greater chance to emerge as a true featured back as a do-it-all prospect. Yet, at least in PPR leagues, Riddick’s fantastic route running and pass-catching abilities keeps him a high-floor option if you rolled the dice on earlier RB investments.
2. Melvin Gordon (San Diego Chargers) – After being lauded as the next Jamaal Charles by many, Gordon wildly disappointed by averaging a mere 3.5 YPC and failing to score a single touchdown. Nonetheless, hope still remains for a post-hype bounceback. Indeed, Gordon’s vision deserves to be questioned, yet creases were few and far between after an abysmal performance from an injury riddled line; 12 different names saw time in the trenches in 2015 after only RT Joe Barksdale made it through 16 games. LT King Dunlap and LG Orlando Franklin’s return to health should help, as should the addition of the gritty and tough C Matt Slauson. At minimum, it isn’t humanly possible for this unit to be less healthy or effective in 2016, and any improvement is good news for Gordon, who’ss explosive college tape might translate more with wider running lanes.
Additionally, Gordon spent much of 2015 playing at far less than 100% due to a knee injury that eventually required micro fracture surgery. Yes, knee surgery is an additional red flag, but all reports on his recovery have been glowingly positive, as he already looked fully healthy in his cuts and speed in OTAs. The Chargers have given him a major vote of confidence this offseason, adding no major depth to the backfield while continually endorsing him as their best bounceback candidate.
New offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is a major positive to Gordon and the run game’s value, as well. Ryan Mathews set career highs in Whisenhunt’s system, and the team finished 13th overall in rushing that season as compared to their abysmal 311st finish in 2015. The coordinator has already stated fixing the ground game is his #1 priority, and he’s excited to tailor it to Gordon’s power-running skill set. Gordon will be given every chance to succeed and prove he’s a franchise type back the Chargers expected with their 2015 first round selection. Yes, he’ll still cede valuable receiving and red zone touches to Danny Woodhead, but out of all the backs on this list, Gordon has the best chance at a 1,000 yard, 6-8 TD without needing an injury ahead of him.
3. Charles Sims (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Charles Sims makes the ideal bench piece as both a high upside handcuff, but also someone who can provide low-end, standalone PPR value if you’re in a pinch. Sims was fantastic as the main pass-catching and change of pace option out of Tampa’s backfield, notching over 1,000 total yards and four receiving TDs on 51 catches — good enough for a 17th overall PPR finish among running backs. Similarly useful numbers should be expected, unless Doug Martin falters or is injured. With a dangerous size / speed combination, Sims would explode for RB1 numbers as the unquestioned featured back in Dirk Koetter’s running back friendly system.
4. LeGarrette Blount (New England Patriots) – Given how TD-dependent Blount is, he’s a risky starting option; yet, he’ll warrant bye-week consideration in most match ups given how consistently the Patriots are in the red zone. With limited receiving chops and no shot at a true featured role, Blount is best considered a poor man’s Jeremy Hill, who isn’t exactly rich himself. Nonetheless, the Patriots added no competition for the big-back role (unless Donald Brown is legit), and Blount should be a safe bet for 8+ TDs with health.
5. Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons) – Similar to Sims above him, Coleman offers both elite handcuff upside with some standalone appeal as the Falcons No. 2 back. Remember, Coleman was starting above 2015 superstar Devonta Freeman before a Week 1 injury opened Freeman’s door to stardom; the team has already made their intentions to reduce Freeman’s role very clear, with the goal of maximizing Coleman’s freakish long speed. Running backs coach Bobby Turner told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “I’d obviously like to get Tevin (Coleman) more involved and that also keeps Free fresher…They are very similar. They both are competitive. They both can catch the football. They both have run instincts. When it comes down to it, the one difference is the flat out long speed of Tevin Coleman.”
Depending on how many carries this amounts to, Coleman could provide in-a-pinch starting value, with enormous RB1 upside in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme should Freeman go down. He’s among the best late-round lottery tickets out there at the RB position.
6. Bilal Powell (New York Jets) – Powell was a fantastic PPR option down the stretch of 2015, notching 47 receptions in only 11 contests, a 68 catch pace over a 16 game slate; he really found his grove after returning from injury in Week 11, catching 5+ balls in all but one of his last six games. Though Matt Forte is among the best receiving backs in the league, the Jets clearly liked what they saw in Powell, re-signing him even after Forte was brought in and then stating he’ll remain heavily involved. Forte appears ready for Chan Gailey’s Fred Jackson role, while Powell projects as his C.J. Spiller. This type of usage makes Powell a legitimate bet for another 45+ catches, even in part time duty, and a quality bench stash behind an aging, over 30 Forte.
7. T.J. Yeldon (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Yeldon offers minimal upside as the lesser half of a committee with new arrival Chris Ivory. True, he’ll own the majority of receiving work, which has many experts touting him as the better PPR option in the Jaguars backfield. Yet, as the fourth target at best behind the two Allens and Julius Thomas, and with minuscule TD potential, Yeldon’s ceiling and floor aren’t great. In a best case scenario, Yeldon thrives in a smaller role and fills in admirably in the few games Ivory is bound to miss. Those ideal numbers still won’t be worth much, and he’s firmly aboard my “Do Not Draft” list.
8. Shane Vereen (New York Giants) – Vereen’s always been a quality receiving option out of the backfield since his days in New England, and his 59 catches in 2015 ranked fifth among running backs. This gives him a fair floor in PPR leagues, yet his limitations and infrequent usage in the running game keep his ceiling completely capped. His inability to separate from an uninspiring pack highlight that last season was likely his highest upside, making Vereen a wholly unexciting investment and useful only to balance out a riskier running back stable.
Top 10 Upside handcuffs
None of these backs will offer much standalone value without injury, but would provide highly startable value if thrust into the lead role. Thus, they are ranked by both the injury proneness of the starter, their own individual talents, and the appeal of their fantasy situation. In most cases, these guys offer more value as a bench stash in a deep running back stable than the above names given their legitimate RB1 and RB2 upside
1. DeAngelo Williams (Pittsburgh Steelers) – As 2015 proved, Williams will provide quality RB1 numbers whenever called upon given Todd Haley’s high usage of runners in all areas of his offense. With Le’veon Bell missing time in two out of three pro seasons, Williams is a must own insurance policy for investors and a high upside stash for everyone else.
2. Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles (Philadelphia Eagles) – Ryan Mathews is made of glass, and head coach Doug Pederson’s rusher-friendly scheme made RB1s out of Jamaal Charles’ handcuffs Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West in 2015. Rookie Smallwood offers more lead-back upside, but Sproles is worth stashing to ensure you’ve got the right guy when Mathews inevitably goes down.
3. Chris Johnson (Arizona Cardinals) – CJ2K has already shown his worth as the lead back in Arians’ explosive attack, ranking third in the league in 2015 rushing before going down. Though he’s clearly second fiddle to the explosive David Johnson, the wily vet would again provide low-end RB1 numbers if he finds himself in the starter role.
4. DeAndre Washington (Oakland Raiders) – Though Latavius Murray is the clear featured back, the Raiders have talked up Washington’s every-down ability. If he’s thrust into the starting role, he’d be running behind one of the league’s top lines and in an ascending offense, offering high-end RB2 potential for the compact, powerful backup. With Murray’s extensive concussion and injury history, Washington has a real shot to make a 2016 impact, and the fifth round pick has a chance at standalone value if he secures the lead pass-catching role.
5. Josh Ferguson (Indianapolis Colts) – As I wrote in Frank Gore’s blurb, the explosive Indy attack could be a running back’s dreamboat, and I don’t expect the 33 year old to reap the benefits for very long. With the team reportedly very impressed in the undrafted rookie, Ferguson appears primed and ready for some work in this great set up. After minicamp, Pagano raved about his new back, stating: “He’s a mismatch out in space, he’s got juice. He can go…he’s not just a third-down back. He’s a good runner. He’s explosive and twitchy and he’s got a jump cut that’s really, really good.” With some guaranteed receiving work already on his platter, and a high-end RB2 ceiling if Gore goes down, Ferguson is a name to circle, underline, and star on your cheat sheet.
6. Tim Hightower (New Orleans Saints)– Hightower came out of nowhere to thrust 34 points into owners unlucky enough to cross his path in Week 16, myself very much included. This is far more a product of the Saints’ ascending line and their high-usage of backs with every-down abilities, and while Hightower is highly mediocre, he’s mediocre at all facets of the game. Volume in an explosive offense will be available with the inevitable Mark Ingram injury, who’s missed time in all but one lightly-used pro season. I’d much rather be the one watching Hightower punish my opponents, and not have him leave me a whimpering mess, during Ingram’s absence.
7. Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden (Dallas Cowboys) – The Cowboys line. ‘Nuff said.
Just pay attention to who #2 is — McFadden will likely be the guy after ranking 4th in the league in 2015 rushing.
8. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West (Kansas City Chiefs) – Jamaal Charles has really struggled to stay healthy as of late, and both backs filled in admirably as RB1s at separate times in 2015. Of course, since both flashed, we could see a committee situation if Charles goes down, hence their lower ranking on the handcuff list. Reid loves featuring his backs in the passing game, and both are adept receivers, so Ware receives the slight edge as a more powerful back that will likely be the primary red zone back from Day One.
9. James Starks (Green Bay Packers) – Though Eddie Lacy’s durability has been as consistent as they come, his weight is impossible to project. If we get blubber ball Eddie, then Starks can expect similar usage and production to a 2015 where he bested his backfield mate with 992 total yards, 43 catches, and 5 total touchdowns; given Lacy is currently ranked up at eight, I clearly expect a P90X shredded beast, but we’re one prolonged buffet visit from seeing another Starks filled season.
10. Karlos Williams? Mike Gillislee? Buffalo Bills handcuff… A few months ago I would’ve had Williams atop this list; yet, I have a hard time valuing a dude who gains 20 pounds and then blames it as “sympathy weight” for his pregnant wife. Abysmal. Update – WIlliams has been suspended for 4 games for wretched excuse making.
Regardless, Greg Roman’s scheme promises to again be at the top of the league in carries and rushing output, and Lesean McCoy has shown signs of a serious breakdown. Mike Gillislee seems to be the next in line after Williams’ offseason from hell, and the former Dolphins back did score a TD in three out of the five contests he was active. Gillislee should start flying up draft boards, especially if training camp reports emerge that he’s separating as the clear #2 guy.
Late Round Fliers
If you’re playing a beer a round and 12 cold cruisers deep, here are seven names to drunkenly bumble out and piss everyone else in your draft room off.
1. C.J. Prosise (Seattle Seahawks) – Immediately slides in as the Seahawks third down back, with the upside for far greater if Rawls falters or is injured in the starting role. With the offense promised to be more explosive and aerial, Prosise has the potential to rise up these ranks quickly with a strong camp showing.
2. Shaughn Draughn (San Francisco 49ers) – Nothing exciting as a talent, but with the 49ers projected to be playing from behind quite a bit and Carlos Hyde a weak receiver, Draughn could rack up some cheap receptions. Moreover, Hyde’s inability to stay on the field means some featured back games are likely in Draughn’s future.
3. Devontae Booker (Denver Broncos) – Has already boldly claimed he’ll steal the starting Denver gig, and given starter C.J. Anderson’s historically slow starts and the Utah product’s own natural talent, he may not be far off. As examined in Anderson’s outlook, Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme produces RB1’s far more often than not, and the head coach hand picked Booker this year.
4. Kenneth Dixon and 5. Javorius Allen (Baltimore Ravens) – We talked about this in Value TBD, but Marc Trestman’s propensity to funnel targets to his running backs will create high PPR RB2 value for whoever is in the backfield. Though Justin Forsett is the favorite to start, his age and overall effectiveness could allow either of these two to swoop in for some mid to late season explosions. Pay close attention to this depth chart and each back’s performances throughout training camp.
6. Paul Perkins (New York Giants) – If Perkins is any good, he shouldn’t have trouble separating from a lackluster pack for serious work in an explosive offense.
7. Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears) – See Perkins, reduce offense’s overall explosiveness.
This wraps our 2016 Stream of Gut running back rankings. Stay tuned for our first ever Podcast, where we will do a full preview of the running back position featuring strategy, our top targets, potential busts, and late round lottery targets. Wide Receiver and Tight End cheat sheets will be coming soon!