Fantasy Position Battles: Running Backs

With OTAs underway, we finally begin to see teams take shape with their newly signed free agents and draft picks. Eventually, OTAs will lead into full-blown camps, then before you know it pre-season football games begin. Finally concluding with the real deal official football games on September 6. From now until then, there are plenty of questions to be answered. The following are a few of the unknown NFL quantities heading into the summer. I won’t be making any predictions as to how these situations will pan out, for now, it’s just an objective look at some of the bigger question marks on the fantasy landscape that you should be keeping an eye on this summer. First up, let’s look at the backfield battles.

Miami Dolphins – Did the Dolphins bring in Frank Gore and Kalen Ballage to truly compete for carries, or to spell Drake throughout the season? Kenyan Drake averaged an impressive 18.2 carries down the final five-game stretch for the Dolphins in 2017. Drake averaged an impressive 4.88 yards per carry over that span, but did he do enough to lock in the every-down back role? Miami signed ageless wonder Gore in the offseason and spent a fourth-round draft pick on former ASU touchdown (well at least for one game) machine Ballage, who will be competing for touches in the Miami backfield.

Cleveland Browns – Will Carlos Hyde or Nick Chubb take the reigns, or will it be a true running back by committee in Cleveland? The Browns are pretty much a toss-up at every offensive position. Last season’s lead rusher Isaiah Crowell has moved on to the Jets, and Cleveland signed former 49er Hyde to a three year 15.2 million dollar contract. They also spent a high second-round pick on Chubb, the former Georgia Bulldog standout. Confusing matters, even more, Duke Johnson returns as a dual threat out of the backfield. Johnson had 82 carries and 74 receptions in 2017.

Indianapolis Colts – Who will replace Frank Gore’s 261 carries? Gore leaving for Miami leaves a huge void to be filled in the Indy backfield. Marlon Mack would appear to be the leading candidate to assume the lead back role, but with the Colts picking up Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the draft the backfield becomes a bit more difficult to predict. Hines is an undersized scatback in the mold of Darren Sproles, while Wilkins could be your prototypical three-down back. Throw veterans Robert Turbin and Christine Michael into the mix, and you’re left with a lot of question marks in the Colts backfield.  

Detroit Lions – Can the Lions find a running game under Matt Patricia? The Lions spent their first-round pick on center Frank Ragnow and followed that up with running back Kerryon Johnson  in the second round. They picked up veteran bruiser LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, noted for his touchdown scoring prowess. Ameer Abdullah has voiced his frustration with his role and his desire to be a featured back, and pass catching specialist Theo Riddick will also be returning. It will be important for fantasy owners to watch how touches are distributed in camp and preseason to see if any Detroit backs are worth spending a fantasy draft pick on.

Green Bay Packers – Is Ty Montgomery still a running back? The Packers had a revolving door in the backfield in 2017. Montgomery started out strong, averaging a crazy 19.7 touches per game in the first three weeks. He suffered a rib injury in week 4 and was never back to full strength. Both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones looked like they could be a feature back when given the chance. Jones averaged 14.8 PPR points in weeks four through seven, while Williams averaged nearly 19 PPR points in weeks nine through fourteen. Each also battled injuries on and off throughout the season. The summer camps and preseason games should help reveal what the pecking order will be in Green Bay’s backfield in 2018.

New England Patriots – Can we have a conversation about confusing backfields without mentioning the Patriots? Of course not. Dion Lewis is out, Sony Michel is in. Rex Burkhead is back. Jeremy Hill was added. James White isn’t going anywhere. Mike Gillislee is still in the mix. Pay attention to the Patriots this summer, but it will likely be as difficult as ever to figure out which New England running back has the most value.

Find me on Twitter @aalarson to let me know how you think these position battles play out for fantasy football. Look for part two soon, where I’ll take a look at teams with questionable receiving corps!

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Husband, father, teacher, coach, news correspondent for @FantasyPros, Writer for @DFF_Redraft. #DFFArmy #FantasyFootball @aalarson

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