2016 NFL Draft Recap: Running Backs

by Richard Savill
2016 NFL Draft Recap

Credit: Bearcat Brands

In recent years, we have seen the value of wide receivers steadily catching up to that of the running backs. A lot of factors have developed to contribute to this - committee backfields, hot hand starters and the rise of injuries in the position. The 'Zero RB' draft strategy has taken a strong hold and continues to entice even the old school fantasy experts to adopt it.

In this 2016 NFL draft, we did not see an overall inclination of the teams to make running backs a priority in the draft. Instead, teams preferred to bolster their offensive lines to help the rushing game. We don't draft offensive lines in fantasy - that's the problem. Not that we ever understate their importance to fantasy football as they are directly involved with everything our fantasy players do. However, if the trend is leaning toward running back by committee (RBBC) systems in the league, it is understandable that a stiff offensive line has to accommodate every running back of various talent.

Feature backs are alive and well

Fortunately, three down back systems are still holding strong enough in the league to keep our numbers steady enough in our fantasy lineups. It's only the best running backs that are getting scarce. For those unlucky enough to be in the lower end of snake drafts, missing out on the top running backs isn't so severe as it used to be. Playing the game by scooping the next running back in the depth chart can turn out to be a bonanza of strength in the middle of the season.

2016 NFL Draft Recap: Running Backs

In 2016, there was really only one true bell cow to salivate over, but down the road some of these other rookies could turn fantasy leagues on their heads just like David Johnson of the Cardinals in 2015. Undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls was another. The point is to keep watch on all the rookies and try to read between the lines of the camp reports. If a rookie is a good player and you know it, stash him if possible. Good players will always see the field.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

2016 NFL Draft Recap

Credit: MGoBlog

It's safe to say that Elliott is far and away the most highly anticipated rookie coming into the league in 2016. He brings to the Cowboys a strong work ethic, football IQ, line blocking, ball security, college awards galore and a fearsome power like a speeding infantry support tank. Yep, Elliott is a true game changer.

Jerry Jones was so giddy at the post-draft press conference that it infected everyone. The "life after Romo" conversation has totally disappeared and all we want to talk about is Zeke. Fantasy football was popping champagne corks too.

This is a player that could give us some real hope to stem the tide of RBBC systems when other teams see what he can do.

Aren't we getting a little ahead of ourselves here?

Maybe, but who cares? Okay, it's a fair question in any event. There are those who are just plain cynical when it comes to hype of any kind. I think the hype has more firm foundation with Elliott's situation in Dallas than with other "hypes" of the past. Dallas has a strong offensive line, the backfield has no other contenders to speak of and Elliott demonstrated his talent time and again in the Urban Meyer system at Ohio St.

I can see people reaching for Elliott in the first round of fantasy drafts. Second round for sure. We'll see if I'm right when the ADP polls from mock drafts start populating this summer. To be honest, I'm far more tempted to take Elliott in an early round than any of the running back rookies of 2015. Even if Todd Gurley was healthy at draft time, I wouldn't be as inclined toward him as I am with Elliott in 2016.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

2016 NFL Draft Recap

Credit: Phillip Hendon

Henry was a standout in the National Championship game in Alabama vs Clemson and people were already marking his name down for fantasy in 2016. If he were an NFL fantasy player in that game, he would have scored around 35 standard fantasy points. This wasn't a one-off big performance either for the Heisman winner; his production was steady with the Tide throughout his time there.

Derrick Henry is a big running back at 6' 3" and 240. It goes without saying that he's just the sort of guy you want in on goal line situations. He isn't a one trick pony though, as he goes through defenses like a battering ram between the 20s as well. You would think the Titans have finally got someone to develop a strong running attack that takes some pressure off Mariota in the passing game. Well, they've actually got two "someones" that conflict with each other's fantasy value.

DeMarco Murray came first

Since Murray left the Cowboys, this is now the second consecutive crowded backfield he has entered. Antonio Andrews and David Cobb are still on the team roster - subject to change of course. Not forgetting Dexter McCluster who is a "real" football flex player. As I said earlier, "every-down" running backs are like gold dust in fantasy football. It does not look like there's any detectable gold in that backfield as we approach the summer camps.

I think I could still draft Henry as a late round stash for the "wait and see" approach, but as for expectations for both Murray and Henry for regular production, the whole thing in Tennessee feels damp. Deep leagues will definitely carry either or both, but 10 or 12 sized fantasy leagues are hard pressed to decide on how to roster them. My guess is that experience comes first with Murray, but the whole thing has committee written all over it.

C. J. Prosise; Alex Collins, Seattle Seahawks

2016 NFL Draft Recap

Credit: Harris Highlights

There's no confirmation on the status of Thomas Rawls, who suffered a season ending injury in a game against Cleveland last December. Whether or not they are hedging their bets by drafting two running backs is something that would seem obvious, but Pete Carroll is always wanting things both ways with the team.

Last year we could see a transition to a more balanced attack as Doug Baldwin became a fantasy monster in the second half of the season. Yet, with this move it looks like the Seahawks want the running game to have "beastquakes" just the same.

There's no reason they can't have both of course, but in drafting C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins in the 3rd and 5th rounds respectively, it sure looks like they still want to lean heavily on the rush. The bigger guy is Prosise, but he has been scouted as more of the pass catcher. Collins is more typical of the standard running backs around the league and will have to bear down hard to keep a roster spot on the team.

Are the Seahawks going the committee route too?

It could be. With Rawls status currently uncertain and all the running backs they've got, including Christine Michael whom the team recently re-signed, there's every possibility that's how they may approach it. If Rawls returns 100% healthy and misses no time, then all bets are off. You have to think Thomas Rawls will regularly approach 25-30 carries per game if he's healthy.

Rawls probably sees less on 3rd down, which is where someone like C.J. Prosise would fit. I say that because he was originally a safety and wide receiver before transitioning to running back at Notre Dame. Overall, this player has to be considered a real bargain for where the Seahawks drafted him because I sense they weren't expecting to see him on the board when their turn came, so they scooped him. A possible PPR sleeper.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

One of the clear indications of this pick by the Dolphins is that Jay Ajayi's job is safe as the feature back of the team. Drake is another Alabama alumnus who played in the shadow of Derrick Henry. So the consensus is that he will simply do the duties of relief back when Ajayi takes a breather.

Should I handcuff Drake?

I wouldn't argue against it, since Jay Ajayi was on injured reserve to start 2015 because of a rib cage fracture. Just remember that Drake has his own colored injury history too. If the injury history of players bothers you, then looking elsewhere apart from the Dolphins for fantasy bench insurance might be in your best interest.

The bottom line is that the starting job belongs to Ajayi, despite the "stable of running backs" that Adam Gase is pursuing. Kenyan Drake is major player in that stable to be sure, but we have to assume that his role will be brought along behind Jay Ajayi.

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