The 7 Best Landing Spots for Rookie Running Backs

Yesterday our eminently courageous chieftain detailed the seven best landing spots for rookie wide receivers. As he noted, instant opportunity provides potential for a more rapidly appreciating asset. The same could be said for rookie running backs. Opportunity, and the statistics that come with it, are often mistaken for talent. Even a player like Jeremy Langford, whose talent/efficiency many have been down on this off-season, saw a significant rise in dynasty ADP between last offseason and this current one.

ChartJeremyLangford

That’s the power of the opportunity he got, and the perception of more opportunity in the future. As Rick James might say, opportunity’s a helluva drug.

With that in mind, here are the seven best landing spots for rookie running backs in 2016.

Indianapolis Colts

Frank Gore had the sixth most rushing expected points (ruEP)1 in 2015, the 15th most receiving expected points (reEP) among running backs, and is… old. I mean, dude turns 33 in May. He’s just… too old!

The Colts have added guys like Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman to help out Gore in the backfield. In other words, there’s a very real chance a rookie back slides into this massively valuable workload at some point in 2016, playing alongside Andrew Luck in an offense where defenses have to give attention to some speedy receivers on the outside. This is the money spot.

Miami Dolphins

Adam Gase seems to prefer feature backs. A recent report in the Miami Herald suggested the Dolphins let Lamar Miller walk because they felt they could find a running back as good or better in the draft. The team made overtures toward both C.J. Anderson and Chris Johnson in free agency. While the same linked report stated that former coach Dan Campbell liked Jay Ajayi, there is some evidence the team has questions whether he can be the guy. Miami would certainly be a strong fit for a number of backs in this draft.

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas might not add a back because their current situation isn’t much different from last year when they didn’t prioritize the position. If they do, it’s a great landing spot. We know about their impressive line. I think Darren McFadden probably isn’t getting enough credit for his career year — the man was an extremely impressive athlete once — but he’s still an aging back with a very troubling injury history. On a recent RotoViz Mailbag, Pat Kerrane discussed Alfred Morris‘ struggles after the Shanahans and their zone-blocking scheme left town. I had a bunch of thoughts on Twitter regarding Alf’s signing that are too much for this blurb, but let’s just say I stand by calling him “replacement level.”

Lance Dunbar getting healthy is the biggest threat to value for an incoming rookie back. We’ve been telling you about this for some time now, but the pass-catching workload is insanely valuable for running backs. A guy like Dunbar on the roster, who will likely steal a significant portion of that passing-down work, is a value drain for other backs. 

Still, there are question marks on Dunbar like last season’s small sample and his effectiveness coming back from injury. The fact is this is an offense that has provided some of the more impressive RB fantasy football seasons in recent memory, and it’s a backfield where a talented enough back could ascend to playing time, and could perhaps have a full role as early as 2017.

San Francisco 49ers

This is all about Chip Kelly, who features the running game in his offense heavily. According to Pro Football Reference, Kelly has been in the 80th percentile of league rushing attempts across his three seasons as a head coach. As RotoDoc notes, Carlos Hyde is a bad pass-catching back and can’t stay healthy. The other competition, like Mike Davis and Shaun Draughn, is unispiring.

The 49ers should draft at least one back, and that back(s) should have a good shot at nabbing a significant portion of a valuable workload.

Philadelphia Eagles

If Doug Pederson runs his offense anything like he did under Andy Reid, this is a very valuable landing spot. 14Team Mocker discussed where Ryan Mathews fits in, but his name is never far from the soft-tissue conversation. Darren Sproles is a month younger than Gore, and I could kick it back to Happy but I think we’ve established what that means.

A rookie back probably wouldn’t start Week 1 in Philadelphia, but there would be the potential for a Jamaal Charles-type workload later in 2016, or perhaps in 2017, should one of the better pass-catching backs in the draft land here.

Baltimore Ravens

Another crowded backfield that is desirable mostly because of the value of the RB workload in the offense. We know The Trestman Effect is about usage, not efficiency, and few may realize Javorius Allen was a clear Trestman back from Week 10 on last season.

ChartJavoriusAllen

Allen comfortably outpaced the best receiving backs in the league over the season’s final eight weeks, and was 15th in ruEP. Of course, he was a late fourth-round draft pick, wasn’t overly efficient with his workload, and the other backs in Baltimore are either getting up there in age (Justin Forsett) or have been uninspiring (Lorenzo TaliaferroTerrance West, reportedly Trent Richardson). This is another place one of the better pass-catching backs could land and make things very interesting.

Chicago Bears

Let’s close it out with some more Langford talk. The Bears make a great landing spot not necessarily because of the value of the expected workload — it’s questionable at best whether John Fox has a preference about backfield usage — but more so because they also made overtures at C.J. Anderson, and it seems like a forgone conclusion they will draft a back. Coupled with the fantasy community’s distaste for Langford’s 2015, the value of the back who lands in Chicago will almost certainly rise this summer.

If that back doesn’t catch passes, however, this is a situation where it might make sense to flip a value-inflated asset before he even plays a down. In that hypothetical, we’d be talking about Tevin ColemanDevonta Freeman 2.0, and while some would argue Langford is no Freeman in terms of competition,2 the Bears also aren’t running a Shanahan offense. In other words, the hype will almost certainly exceed a reasonable short-term workload expectation for this mystery Bears rookie.

  1. Per the Fantasy Efficiency app.  (back)
  2. I would still argue the conclusions drawn on Langford are a bit premature, but there are smarter minds than me that are confident he’s not an NFL back.  (back)

Ben Gretch

Writer. Podcast host. Former and still occasional editor. Previous work at Rotoworld, Draft Sharks. Work cited at NFL.com, Washington Post. Probably a little too obsessed with fantasy football.
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