RBs That Can Make a Tier Jump in 2016

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As is often the case in fantasy football, players at various skill positions are vulnerable to both positive and negative fluctuations in overall value. This is especially true for running backs, as the position is arguably the most volatile in all of fantasy. There are a variety of different factors that might contribute to a particular running back’s change in value, such as the introduction of a new offensive coordinator, an improved offensive line, or even a change of scenery in terms of landing with a new team. As a result, it would only make sense if numerous running backs are conceivably in line to improve on their 2015 campaigns. Assuming full-point PPR scoring and a 12-team format, I believe the following running backs are strong bets to take a leap in statistical value this upcoming season.

Carlos Hyde

When it comes to evaluating and projecting value at the running back position in fantasy football, opportunity is of the utmost importance. Fortunately for Carlos Hyde, a massive opportunity lies ahead due to the addition of Chip Kelly in San Francisco. Before missing the final nine weeks of the 2015 season due to an ailing foot injury that eventually required surgery, Hyde demonstrated that he possesses the necessary tools to exceed as a featured back in the NFL. During his seven active games last season, Hyde managed to average 4.1 yards per carry. Even more, he received double-digit rushing attempts in all but one of those games, which was in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers. Heading in 2016, Hyde faces minimal competition in San Francisco out of the backfield, as Shaun Draughn resides as his only formidable threat.

Consider the following table as an example of why I believe Draughn’s presence is not an imminent concern for Hyde’s workload:

Player 2015 Rushing Line 2015 Yard Per Carry Average 2015 Receiving Line 2015 Targets
Carlos Hyde 115-470-3 4.1 11-53-0 15
Shaun Draughn 78-273-1 3.5 27-176-0 35

As pictured above, Draughn makes his largest impact in the passing game. Despite adequate performances in Hyde’s absence late last season, Draughn does very little damage on the ground. This is evident by his rather bleak 3.5 yards per carry average. Sure, he could steal work in the passing attack, but I ultimately expect Hyde to dominate touches for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

In an up-tempo offense under the direction of Chip Kelly, it is entirely possible for Hyde to outperform his current ADP of 43.5 overall in PPR leagues based on projected volume alone. The lone area of concern surrounding Hyde remains his availability, as he has missed eleven games in his first two professional seasons. Given the fact that Hyde finished as the RB61 overall in PPR formats in 2015, I find him to be a prime candidate to jump into the higher echelon of running back tiers this season.

Duke Johnson

As a rookie in 2015, Duke Johnson managed to accumulate 61 catches for the Cleveland Browns. In turn, this enabled Johnson to finish fourth among all running backs in receptions, in addition to placing him as the RB23 in PPR scoring. As the 2016 season approaches, it is widely expected that Johnson will serve a similar passing-down role. However, assumed starter Isaiah Crowell was wildly inefficient last year, as he was responsible for scoring less than one fantasy point on three different occasions. Combine that with the fact that Crowell received at least seven total touches during the span of each of those games, and it becomes clear that he owns a significantly lower ceiling than that of Duke Johnson.

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According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson eluded a missed tackle on 26.6 percent of his total touches in 2015. His percentage was among the best of all running backs in the NFL. With rumors circulating around Hue Jackson believing in Johnson as a potential three-down back, I am willing to invest in the sophomore running back well before his current ADP of 67.7. Due to his receiving floor, Johnson can be a serviceable asset in PPR leagues regardless of his rushing role next to Crowell. Consider that in 2015, Crowell received a total of 204 touches, while Johnson earned 165 touches as almost exclusively a passing-down specialist. Given Hue Jackson’s history with the Cincinnati Bengals and his proven ability to consistently distribute touches between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Duke Johnson resides as one of my favorite running backs to receive a considerable uptick in statistical output this year. After all, Giovani Bernard finished as the RB16 in PPR — nearly a tier above Duke Johnson — in a receiving role out of the backfield under Hue Jackson only a year ago.

Ameer Abdullah

The Detroit Lions enter this season as one of the most polarizing teams in the NFL. At this point in time, it is quite possible that the team could deploy a tandem of four running backs on a regular basis. Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner and Stevan Ridley all figure to compete for the same early-down role, while passing-down specialist Theo Riddick is the only running back virtually guaranteed a consistent workload. Keep in mind, Riddick accrued 80 catches last year, which tied for best in the NFL among running backs with Danny Woodhead. To put that into perspective, consider that Riddick caught the same amount of passes in 2015 as Allen Robinson. Crazy, right?

Since Riddick found success under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, it is reasonable to be bearish on Ameer Abdullah after a disappointing usage rate during his rookie season. Still, due to his strong college pedigree from Nebraska and proven ability to run and catch the football, Abdullah resides as a value pick at his current ADP of 77.1 in PPR leagues. Hence, he stands as one of my main running back targets in redraft leagues this season. To support my stance on Abdullah, examine the following table, where it is clear that he is the most efficient weapon in Detroit’s backfield:

Player 2015 Rushing Line 2015 Yard Per Carry Average 2015 Receiving Line 2015 Targets
Ameer Abdullah 143-597-2 4.2 25-183-1 38
Theo Riddick 43-133-0 3.1 80-697-3 99
Zach Zenner 17-60-0 3.5 2-11-0 3
Stevan Ridley (With the New York Jets) 36-90-0 2.5 4-(-2)-0 5

Although a small sample size, Abdullah proved to make the most of his limited touches as a rookie in route to averaging a sound 4.2 yards per carry. In fact, according to Rotoworld, Abdullah flourished after the employment of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, as his yards per carry average increased to 4.7 after Week 9. This bodes well for Abdullah’s value moving forward, as Jim Bob Cooter has now had an entire offseason to implement his offense in Detroit. Still only 23-years-old, Abdullah is in an ideal position to succeed in the NFL. Outside of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder this past January, he carries very little risk entering 2016. It is also important to note that Abdullah can still contribute in fantasy even if Theo Riddick continues to excel in the passing game. While sharing touches with Riddick, Abdullah still finished as the RB43 overall in PPR scoring last season. As a result, he arguably has the best opportunity out of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson to see a jump in overall production entering this year. Draft Abdullah with confidence, as all signs point to the Detroit Lions featuring him as the lead back in 2016.

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