Week 16: RB Roundup
With just two games remaining in the season we're going to shift our focus to next year's draft. This week we're looking at the NFC's running backs and where they could be selected in next year's fantasy draft.
After going 13-3 in 2012, the Falcons had high hopes for this season. Unfortunately things have not gone their way this year and Atlanta is at the bottom of their division. One reason they've struggled this year is due to a lackluster run game. Off season acquisition Steven Jackson has missed four games and at age 30 one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Fellow back Jacquizz Rodgers has performed well with the opportunities he's been given, but Rodgers is a small guy and not an every down type of back. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta stays with Jackson for next season or if they draft a rookie or sign one of the big named free agents. If things stand pat in Atlanta, there's not much fantasy value here until you're ready to fill the RB3/Flex position in your roster.
With the return of Jonathan Stewart, Carolina's run game becomes a three headed monster once again. Between Stewart and DeAngelo Williams splitting carries and Cam Newton scrambling out of the pocket, it is anyones guess as to which guy will be the leading rusher each week. Carolina's backfield will once again be a mess and fantasy owners would be wise to select one of these backs as a RB3/Flex option only.
New Orleans Saints
When someone mentions the Saints the first thing that comes to mind is Drew Brees and the pass game. It's almost like the run game is a second thought in New Orleans and this is not likely to change in 2014. Through 14 games the Saints' leading rusher is Piere Thomas (who has rushed for 521 yards, which is good enough for 34th in the league). There are backup running backs with more rushing yards and teams with platoon backfields where boths backs have rushed for more yards. The saving grace for owners looking at Saints backs next year is their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. To go along with 521 rushing yards, Thomas has 503 yards receiving. There is value to be had in this backfield, but not in the conventional sense. Owners in PPR leagues would do well with Thomas or Darren Sproles and should bump these players up on their draft board.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs' backfield was decimated by injury this season. Tampa lost lead back Doug Martin to a shoulder injury in their sixth game of the year at Atlanta. Then just three weeks later rookie Mike James breaks his ankle in the game against Miami. Both backs are expected back and healthy in time for the start of the 2014 season. Through six games Martin had 456 yards rushing, which had him on pace for over 1,200 yards on the season. With numbers like these, Martin could one of the top 15 backs selected next year. Of course questions at the quarterback position could be cause for concern, so you may need to adjust Martin's ranking on your draft board.
It looks like we'll see a platoon backfield in Arizona next season. Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington have split running back duties this year and there's little reason to doubt this will change for next season. Ellington has more upside and with a season under his belt he could take over lead running back duties next year. If things stand pat neither back is worth more than RB3/Flex consideration in 2014.
San Francisco 49er
Until further notice the 49ers backfield belongs to Frank Gore. With a couple of solid performances in the final two games of the season, Gore will finish off the year as one of the league's top 10 rushers. Gore should be one of the first 12 running backs off the board next year.
Since coming to Seattle, Marshawn Lynch has been a stud. In four full seasons as a Seahawk Lynch has rushed for 1,000+ yards every year. Seattle is a team headed in the right direction and Lynch plays a key roll in their offense. With a top 10 finish in rushing yards this season, Lynch is sure to be a top 12 selection in next year's draft.
St. Louis Rams
One has to wonder if Zac Stacy had been the Rams' starting back from the get go if he would be one of the top five rushers at this point in the season? In 10 games as a starter Stacy has rushed for 854 yards (or 85 yards per game). Had Stacy been able to maintain that average in St. Louis' first four games he would have 1,190 yards rushing at this point in the season. This would place the rookie out of Vanderbilt one yard ahead of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch for the season for sixth most rushing yards on the year. We will never know how well or poor Stacy would have performed in those first four games, but it is clear Stacy is a quality back and should be considered a top 12 running back selection next season.